Wesner: Power conference bias, strength of schedule will send Wichita State to AAC

Photo courtesy of Peyton Wesner.

Tic. Tock. Tic. Tock. Tic. Tock.

Do you remember waiting on a decision after your first job interview?

Sitting in your living room with a racing mind and constantly checking for a missed call or email, you begin to second guess whether your first impression was strong and your answers crisp.

The Missouri Valley Conference is now engaged in a waiting game with mid-major powerhouse Wichita State.

Will they stay, or will they go?

Reported by The Wichita Eagle’s Paul Suellentrop Tuesday, the Shockers’ move to the American Athletic Conference is “almost inevitable.”

Thus, the update proposes the question: Was Sunday’s NCAA Tournament matchup with Kentucky the final game Wichita State will represent the Missouri Valley Conference

Many believe it is, and it all boils down to the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee’s discrimination towards mid-majors and the Shockers’ desiring to leave a high risk/low reward situation in “The Valley.

Every year, great mid-majors are left out of the field. From this year’s MVC snub Illinois State to 2015-16 regular season giant killer Monmouth, teams are left outside of the field due to lackluster conference defeats or one conference tournament loss devaluing regular season dominance.

Take the 2015-16 Monmouth Hawks, for example. King Rice’s army defeated UCLA (on the road!), nationally ranked Notre Dame (neutral site) and USC (neutral site), not to mention traveling to Georgetown and Rutgers to also post wins. Come April, Monmouth had claimed victories against two NCAA Tournament teams and two schools known for their basketball prowess. Though, they were the number one seed in the National Invitation Tournament, instead of traveling to Dayton for First Four action. What more could they have done? Their non-conference competition was already rigorous! It turned out four conference losses offset and caged the Hawks, the last of which came in the MAAC Championship versus Iona.

Another example resides in Belmont. The Bruins devoured the Ohio Valley Conference by going 15-1 this winter. Then, upset struck in the form of Jacksonville State and their path was paved to the NIT. Yet, they defeated conference opponents by an average margin of 12 points per game — one reason why speculation resumed regarding the purpose of postseason tournaments.

Photo courtesy of Brian Hayes & The Sunflower.

Wichita State won MVC matchups by an average of 21.6 points, not to mention defeating all Arch Madness opponents by at least 15. Though, the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee gave a Shockers’ squad, who had a Pomeroy ranking of No. 8 and the 31st best RPI, a 10 seed — a blatant sign of disrespect to the 30-4 NCAA Tournament mainstay.

Noteworthy is THREE 19-win teams were seeded AHEAD of the Shockers after enduring nearly three times as many defeats. Thus, one can only speculate whether Gregg Marshall’s group would have even made the NCAA Tournament if they lost to Illinois State for the second time in two months.

One topic fans cannot debate is the advantages of playing in the AAC.

By accepting a basketball-only membership (if not a full sports membership), Wichita State would become the 12th team in the conference and would become an immediate favorite to win the regular season championship.

But, what makes the AAC the conference to receive a rose from the Shockers?

The AAC had the best RPI outside of power conferences, edging the MVC by more than two hundredths this season. Furthermore, two teams (SMU & Cincinnati) had a better RPI than both Wichita State and Illinois State while eight squads were ahead of the MVC’s third-ranked Southern Illinois! Hence, the strength of schedule and quality of opponents clearly improves with the move.

Another plus resides in Wichita State finally departing from conference matchups with a high risk/low reward.

For the entirety of conference play, any and every Shockers’ loss is deemed an upset and appears as a blemish on their resume come March. However, by having the opportunity to play SMU, Cincinnati, UCF and UConn (at least once, maybe twice), Wichita State would have their window to tally impressive wins increased from non-conference play to the entire season.

And, Wichita State, returning all significant contributors, would likely DOMINATE the AAC in their inaugural season. With talent like Landry Shamet, Markus McDuffie, Shaq Morris, Conner Frankamp and Zach Brown (the list goes on and on) the Shockers would be the preseason favorite and hold their own in uncharted waters.

Photo courtesy of Fernando Salazar & The Wichita Eagle.

Could the height of UCF’s Tacko Fall or the explosiveness of SMU’s Semi Ojeleye give Wichita State a rude awakening initially? Sure, but, Gregg Marshall is 4-1 over the last four years when facing a team, who had beaten his, within the same season.

With the AAC’s lack of teams advancing to the second weekend — they have had a total of zero during the last three years — the conference is in need of a giant killer. It is in need of a household dynasty.

It is in need of a Shocker.

— P. Wesner