20 Questions: Which Non-BCS League Will Be the Best This Season?Posted by rtmsf on October 30th, 2011
Andrew Murawa is the Pac-12 and Mountain West correspondent for RTC and a microsite writer. You can find him on Twitter @amurawa.
Question: Which Non-BCS League Will Be the Best This Season?
In each of the past four years, the Mountain West Conference, Conference USA, Atlantic 10 and Missouri Valley Conference have all been ranked by Ken Pomeroy somewhere between the seventh- and tenth-best conferences in the nation. Going back nine years, at least three of those conferences have been among the top ten conferences in the nation every season, and no other non-BCS conference outside of these four has rated higher than ninth in that span. Now, as good as the Colonial may be this year, as good as the West Coast Conference or even the MAAC may be this season, I’m willing to wager that this year will be no different. One of the MW, the A-10, the MVC or C-USA will be the best non-power conference this season.
Further, I’ll be willing to wager that the Mountain West, a conference that has only once in that span ranked lower than eighth, will not be the best of those conferences this season. Last year as it rode BYU and San Diego State (not to mention UNLV, Colorado State and New Mexico), it was almost unquestionably the best non-power conference. But, gone are Jimmer Fredette and Kawhi Leonard. And in fact, BYU is gone altogether, as is Utah. UNLV and New Mexico return, and both of them will be very good, but SDSU will take a big step back this season, Colorado State looks to be ordinary, and the rest of the conference ranges from unspectacular to bad.
Likely the two best non-BCS teams this year will come from two of our three remaining conferences: Xavier from the Atlantic 10 and Memphis from Conference USA. But while those teams are worthy of consideration for a top ten preseason ranking, neither of the conferences have a lot of depth. While Temple is a strong second in the A-10, there is quite a slide from there down to Saint Louis, Saint Joseph’s and St. Bonaventure, with teams like Richmond, Dayton and Rhode Island, teams that have been factors in recent years, taking a step back. In C-USA, the drop off from one to two seems even more sharp than in the A-10, with none of Marshall, Tulsa, UCF and UAB looking like legitimate threats to Memphis.
That leaves the Missouri Valley Conference as my pick as the strongest non-BCS conference. Between the 2003-04 season and the 2006-07 season, the MVC could have made a strong argument that it was the strongest non-BCS conference in the nation each year. Headlined by Southern Illinois’ impressive run, the conference put 11 teams in the NCAA Tournament in that four-year span. But the conference has fallen on relative hard times in the past four seasons, putting just one team each year in the Big Dance. Valley fans hope that this is the year things change. At the top of the conference, either Creighton or Wichita State (RTC’s choice for most underrated team in America) is the favorite to win the title, depending on who you ask. Creighton returns sophomore Doug McDermott, son of Bluejay head coach Greg McDermott, for his sophomore campaign after taking down MVC Freshman of the Year and All-MVC honors last year. Paired with center Greg Echenique, a Rutgers-transfer who gained eligibility at midseason last year, and a bulldog in senior point guard Antoine Young, McDermott is a versatile threat, capable of stepping outside to knock down threes at a spectacular rate (his 58.1 eFG% was among the top 100 in the nation) or grabbing rebounds (7.6 RPG). Meanwhile, down south, the Shockers have some players of their own, highlighted by a three-man senior backcourt of returning starters from last year’s NIT squad: Toure’ Murry, David Kyles and point guard Joe Ragland. Senior seven-footer Garrett Stutz will need to be ready to take on extra minutes as head coach Gregg Marshall has to replace three of the four leading rebounders from last year, with a couple newcomers chipping in. Elsewhere in the Valley, last year’s tournament champ Indiana State returns almost everybody, while Missouri State, despite losing four of its five starters from last year, returns senior Kyle Weems, arguably the best individual player in the conference. Even Northern Iowa and Drake can compete if a few things break right.
The big key for the MVC in its attempt to earn multiple NCAA Tournament bids is to win its important non-conference games. Last year, Wichita State just missed in attempting to knock off Connecticut in the Maui Invitational, costing themselves additional RPI boosters against other BCS conference opponents. The Shockers struck out again against SDSU and even Virginia Commonwealth in their BracketBusters game, leaving a good team without any quality wins to show for itself come Selection Sunday. This year WSU plays in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, opening with Colorado, before playing Alabama or Maryland in the second round and possibly Purdue or Temple on Sunday. Further, they’ll host teams like UAB, UNLV and Utah State, while traveling to Tulsa, games against teams from the conferences with which the MVC will compete for bubble bids. Likewise, Creighton gets to take a crack at beating UAB, San Diego State, Saint Joe’s and Tulsa on the road, while hosting Iowa and Northwestern. For the MVC to claim the title of best non-BCS conference, these are the types of games it will need its best teams to win.