TidBits: Loyola, Drake, Indy St, Women’s Hoops and the Mid Major NIT
The Valley is a multi-bid league for the first time since 2016! Drake got the very last at-large spot in the field to join automatic qualifiers Loyola in the competition. While the Valley has gotten multiple bids several times in the last couple decades, you need to go back to 2006 to find a time that two of the MVC’s current membership represented the league in the big dance in the same season. That year UNI, SIU and Bradley all made it along with Wichita State (Valpo has also qualified several times along with other current MVC teams, but never as members of the MVC). Drake’s opponent will be Wichita State. The Shockers haven’t exactly seen the competitive bump they hoped for after their move to the American Athletic Conference (as I pointed out on Twitter). Also, Indiana State has a new coach, the Valley had another odd reaction to COVID issues at the women’s league tournament, and the NIT is swimming with mid-majors. Check out my thoughts below.
-I know some Rambler fans are unhappy that Loyola drew an 8-seed, and with good reason. After all, the Ramblers had a NET of 10 and a BPI of 21. Why have those metrics if you only intend to use them when they benefit your way of thinking? But at the same time, I am not really sure what else we should have expected. Loyola will be the first MVC team to play an NCAA Tournament game as the higher seed since UNI and Wichita State were seeded 5th and 7th in 2015. Those two teams entered the dance ranked 11th and 14th in the nation with a combined record of 58-7. That is what happens to MVC teams. That said, I am very much looking forward to the Ramblers’ game against Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets seem very beatable on paper, although they will be playing with a chip on their shoulder. They started the season with back-to-back losses to Georgia State and Mercer and I doubt many basketball fans expected them to be here. But their ACC slate included wins over North Carolina, Florida State, Virginia Tech, and Syracuse. They’ve won eight in a row coming in, including the ACC title game against Florida State last weekend. This is such an exciting matchup and a huge opportunity for Loyola, especially when you consider their possible second round opponent. Yeah, it isn’t ideal that your path to the Sweet 16 requires a win over one of the best teams in the nation. However, to get a chance to play the biggest school in your state that is too chicken shit to play you in the regular season is quite an opportunity. As a neutral MVC fan I salivate at the possibility of that one. Let’s go Ramblers.
-I was thrilled to see Drake’s name get called during the selection show and even more thrilled to see their draw. Valley fans, if you weren’t pumped to see the Bulldogs play in the NCAA Tournament before, I hope you are now. Drake will play Wichita State in a First Four game on Thursday. The Shockers left our league for greener pastures three years ago, won the regular season title in their new league, and now find themselves in the First Four against the Valley runners up. If the graphic posted during the selection show is to be believed, Drake got the very last spot into the dance. We knew it would be close one way or the other but thankfully the ‘Dogs did just enough to get in. Now we need to get Tank Hemphill healthy and go to war with the Shockers. (Sidenote: I never understood when they said “Don’t start no stuff wont be no stuff”. What does that even mean? Are you saying teams shouldn’t play you? Are you saying you are only playing because the other team started it? What the hell are you talking about?) Should the Bulldogs win, they’d face USC and beyond that possibly Kansas who has a history of losing to MVC teams in the tournament. You’d love to see it happen again.
-There were several instances of COVID cancellations in conference tournaments this year. Some of them were very high profile. In most cases, the situation was very straightforward. You’d get a quick announcement of “we have a positive test, and this game is cancelled”, and the world would move on. The MVC, meanwhile, had two instances of COVID problems pop up in conference tournaments and handled it very weirdly both times. I have already given my two cents on the UNI situation at Arch Madness a couple weeks ago. We had another instance this week at Hoops in the Heartland, the MVC women’s tournament. In this case, two teams had positive tests in advance of their semifinal games. Unlike the situation with UNI, the teams (Bradley and Drake) were allowed, nay, encouraged to play. This forced the league’s best team (Missouri State) to withdraw from the tournament to avoid exposing themselves to COVID and risk missing the big dance. Meanwhile, instead of advancing Bradley (Missouri State’s opponent) to the final after the Bears withdrew, the field was reseeded midstream and Drake was advanced to the final automatically while Bradley played Loyola. The Braves ended up beating the Ramblers and Bulldogs to win the league’s automatic bid. So to review, at the men’s tournament a positive test meant a weird expulsion, but in the women’s tournament it meant a bye to finals for one COVID positive team and an easier path to a championship for another. This actually ended up working out well for the league as it got two bids it wouldn’t have otherwise gotten. Bradley is seeded 11th and will take on Texas while 5th seeded Mo State will take on UC Davis. If this nonsense had occurred on the men’s side and cost a team a bid it likely would’ve been huge news. Regardless, best of luck to the Braves and Bears.
-Indiana State unofficially has a new coach in Division II Lincoln Memorial’s Josh Schertz. This is about as big a splash as you could hope for from the cash strapped Sycamores. Schertz was the head coach at Lincoln Memorial for thirteen seasons and won four National Coach of the Year awards. The Railsplitters have gone 335-68 in his time there including two D2 Final Four appearances. In an ideal world, you’d like to hire someone with significant DI experience when hiring at the MVC level (although Schertz did spend time as an associate head coach at High Point in a previous life). However if you are going to hire a D2 guy, you won’t do much better than Schertz’s pedigree. He has simply been a winner. Can he do it at the DI level with the resources Indiana State has? That remains to be seen. But I am excited about the hire even if I am still a bit surprised at Greg Lansing’s firing. I’d expect Lansing to be in the mix for several mid-major coaching vacancies should he decide he wants to jump right back into the coaching game. If I were him, though, I might want to lay low for a year and recharge the batteries after the saga that was his decade in Terre Haute.
-This year’s NIT is a celebration of the mid-majority. Several P6 squads opted out of the competition, to be held in Dallas with a trimmed down field of 16 teams due to COVID. That left several solid mid major programs to carry the mantle. In all, thirteen of the sixteen participating teams hail from non-power six conferences. Multiple squads from the American, Mountain West, A-10, Conference USA and MAC (as well as one West Coast Conference school) answered the call. The only drawback is that the MVC is not participating. That is a shame because it really feels like we should be in this. As I saw the field unfold, I wished more and more that I would see Missouri State’s name pop up because I wanted the Valley to be a part of this celebration of the top mid major leagues. This is the kind of tournament I would love to see every year in the world of college hoops, a competition featuring the best mid-majors left out of the NCAA fold. I don’t see it happening, although I think we could have a version of it. The CIT already only takes teams from outside the P6. Many teams turn them down because of the way it is set up, using a pay-to-play model, which makes the competition a bit of a farce. Have the NCAA purchase the CIT (the way they did with the NIT) and fill the field with quality mids who failed to make the NCAA or NIT. Reward mid-major teams who finish 20-10 in a weaker league the same way the 9th place B1G team and gets rewarded with an NCAA spot seemingly every year. Give these talented squads something to play for beyond one weekend in March in their league tournaments. Wishful thinking, I know, but wouldn’t it be great?
I cannot wait for the NCAA Tournament. It has been quite awhile since I have had two MVC teams to root for. And even when I did, I always rooted for Creighton and Wichita begrudgingly. There are no begrudges to be had this year. I am all in on Loyola and Drake. If I have time, I hope to squeeze in one more fun article this week on an idea I had about what an all mid-major NCAA Tournament would look like. Until then, thank you for reading and I’ll see you soon.
PS- Shout out to Illinois State and Evansville, the only schools I haven't mentioned yet. We love ya.