In 2006, the Missouri Valley landed four NCAA bids, and two of those teams made it to the Sweet 16. Despite regional semifinal appearances by Southern Illinois in 2007 and Northern Iowa in 2010, the Valley hasn't quite reached those heights since that magical season. After a little more than a month of the 2011-12 campaign, it's looking like one of the nation's oldest conferences has a great shot at an at-large bid or two.
For other posts in this series, visit the Bracketology 101 Exam Week 2011-12 section.
Records are accurate as of 12/13/2011.
Creighton Bluejays (7-1)
The Bluejays, a juggernaut of offensive efficiency, look like the real deal, even if did trip up at St. Joseph's on Saturday afternoon and there aren't a ton of quality wins on the profile beyond a 85-83 victory at San Diego State. Even if there aren't flashy names on the resume, Creighton is showing that it can win everywhere, a trait the Selection Committee will certainly notice. The Jays' non-conference schedule closes with two important games, a trip down to Tulsa and a visit from Northwestern, in a four-night span. Win both of those and it would be very hard to leave Creighton out, barring an epic collapse during Valley play.
Wichita State Shockers (7-2)
Unlike last season, when a Maui quarterfinal loss to eventual national champion UConn condemned Wichita State to the loser's bracket, the Shockers were able to knock out Colorado on Day 1 of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. Unfortunately, they couldn't close the deal, falling to both Alabama and Temple on the way to a fourth-place finish. Since then, Gregg Marshall's team has shown its resilience, rattling off five straight, highlighted by a 19-point thumping of UNLV in the MVC/MWC Challenge. Still, it looks like the Shockers will need to finish in the top two, while avoiding any embarrassing losses, to land an at-large. Circle New Year's Eve on your calendar right now, as the Shockers host Creighton in the second conference game for both teams.
Northern Iowa Panthers (9-1)
Don't hand the Valley crown to Creighton or Wichita State just yet, as the team responsible for the conference's latest highlight is back. It's very possible that the Panthers could be unbeaten right now, if not for an unfortunate scheduling decision. Northern Iowa's sole loss of the season came at the hands of St. Mary's in Moraga, a little more than 48 hours after the Gaels smashed Old Dominion in Norfolk to open the season. Since falling to the Gaels, the Panthers have fired off eight wins in a row, including a sweep of in-state rivals Iowa and Iowa State. Unfortunately, those victories, along with ones over Colorado State, Providence, and Rice, may not stand as quality wins in a couple of months. Yet, if the Panthers grab enough Valley wins and things happen nationally, they have a shot at sneaking in without landing the auto bid.
Indiana State Sycamores (7-2, 6-2 vs. Division I), Illinois State Redbirds (6-3), Drake Bulldogs (6-3, 5-3 vs. Division I), Missouri State Bears (5-3, 4-3 vs. Division I)
This quartet will make life in the Valley interesting, but have little to no shot at an at-large, thanks to missed opportunities. Indiana State visits Vanderbilt on Saturday, which gives them one last shot to build on the attention they received at the Old Spice Classic, where they defeated Texas Tech and Fairfield en route to third place. Illinois State beat Rutgers, but couldn't close the deal against Illinois in the Cancun Challenge. Drake dropped close games to Mississippi and Virginia in the Paradise Jam. Missouri State, meanwhile, lost three in a row before topping Arkansas-Little Rock Saturday. The most disappointing of those defeats was last Wednesday's five-point setback against Oklahoma State, especially since the Bears led most of the way. However, Paul Lusk's team still has the Las Vegas Classic, highlighted by games against St. Mary's and West Virginia, to look forward to.
Evansville Purple Aces (4-4, 3-4 vs. Division I), Bradley Braves (4-4), Southern Illinois Salukis (1-5, 1-4 vs. Division I)
These three should finish at the bottom of the league, and Southern Illinois' trip to Hawai'i for the Diamond Head Classic is the only chance any of them has left to make noise before Valley play begins. Of course, the Salukis lost to Ohio Dominican in their opener, so don't expect much out of that trip.