Thursday, May 18, 2006

Horizon League Adds Valparaiso: On A Mission From God

Valparaiso has announced they will be moving into the Horizon League starting with the 2007-2008 academic and athletic year. What does this mean from a men's basketball standpoint?

From Valparaiso's perspective:

-Joining the Horizon League is a move up in the ranks for Valpo. In the last 2 seasons, Valparaiso's old conference, the Mid-Continent, has finished 25th and 28th, respectively, in Conference RPI. By contrast, the Horizon League has finished 19th and 15th. This gives VU at least a chance at an at-large bid, something that was non-existent in the Mid-Con (short of scheduling and somehow defeating most of a brutal non-conference schedule). Though the Horizon League hasn't had an at-large bid since 2003, and that was their first since they had 3 representatives in 1998, UW-Milwaukee would have made a strong case for at-large status this year if it had lost out on the league's automatic bid. By contrast, the Mid-Continent Conference last sent an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament in 1991. The Mid-Con hasn't had a seed as low as 12 since 1997.

-Getting away from RPI-killers like Southern Utah and Centenary twice a year can only help Valparaiso's strength of schedule. The Crusaders have actually struggled the last two years, losing at least one game to a conference foe ranked 278th or worse in RPI. Any loss like that has proven to drop a team's RPI by at least 20 places. When you can take out 4+ games per year against very statistically weak competition, RPI will only improve. Even if Valparaiso decided its matchups with, say, Western Illinois were something they wanted to continue, they'd most likely only play once a year, and Valpo would even have a good chance of getting more home games in the scheduling contract because they bring a stronger RPI and should not have to face inferior opponents on the road.

-Valparaiso will now have more non-conference scheduling options. Because they will still be looked at as a fairly "weak" team, their conference schedule will bring them some padding against sinking too low in the RPI. Teams in some of the higher mid-major conferences, like a Nevada in the WAC, Bradley in the Missouri Valley, or St. Mary's in the West Coast Conference, might consider a home-and-home matchup when previously this would have been out of the question.

-This said, Valpo might choose not to use this scheduling leverage in this fashion. Another option for them could be to force weaker teams to come into Valpo, which is also not an option that had been available to the Crusaders. Now VU has an option of bargaining 2-for-1 or 3-for-1 with lesser teams, such as teams like Stetson or Campbell from the Atlantic Sun, or UT-San Antonio or Nicholls State from the Southland. Depending on potential increased revenue, Valpo might, and this blog emphasizes the might because it doesn't like to spend other people's money, be able to pay for a guarantee game if they wanted one of those teams to come to Valpo without a return matchup. The theory of this type of scheduling would be that Valpo could rack up more wins using this strategy, which may be more impressive to a selection committee that denied a bid to Missouri State, who was ranked 19th in the RPI going into the tournament.

From the Horizon League's Perspective:

-Adding another team makes a lot of sense to the 9-team Horizon League. Their bizarre single bye/double-bye bracket was confusing to the fans watching their league, primarily when 4 teams wound up in a tie for the place occupying the 3-6 seeds.

-Though Valpo will not be as dominant in the Horizon as it had been in the Mid-Con, there is reason to believe that the Crusaders can come in and be a strong competitor. At worst, this blog thinks that Valpo can fill in somewhere between 3rd and 6th in the league.

-As far as name recognition and even international acclaim, the Horizon picks up a very nice feather for its cap. No team has been able to parlay a single tournament run as effectively as Valparaiso has with it's 1997 team. While Bryce Drew's shot was one of the most indelible moments in recent NCAA history, the fact is that Valpo hasn't won an NCAA tournament game since. Despite this, an entire generation of fans knows who they are based on coach Homer Drew's down-to-earth, extremely friendly personality and his willingness to Crusade for Valpo in the national media. Additionally, VU's international recruiting strategy has unearthed a goldmine of talent, as Drew's personality transcends nationality. African or European prospects have heard about as much about Valpo as Duke, North Carolina, or UCLA, so Drew has found a great way to stockpile talent and level the playing field at least in one recruiting cache.

From the Mid-Continent Conference's Perspective:

-Rough. Valpo was definitely a cornerstone of the league and a charter member. Valparaiso was the one exception in a league that repeatedly had its stronger teams migrate to better conferences, and now they are out.

-Oral Roberts will have to carry the load for this conference. While Oakland, Chicago State, and UMKC could possibly fit in with stronger conferences, ORU will now have to become the class of the conference. Losing 6 seniors this year will not bode well for ORU's prospects, however getting Caleb Green back is a significant boost. When this conference is among the worst in the nation with Valparaiso, the outlook is not good for when it is Valpo-less.

-The loss of Valparaiso leaves the conference with 8 teams. They have a few options here. First is to keep 8. Currently the 9th-place regular season team does not qualify for the conference tournament, so in the 8-team scenario, all 8 teams would have new life when the conference tournament began. The other options involve adding 1 to 5 teams. An obvious choice to replace VU from a geographical standpoint would be Independent Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne. The Mastodons are only about 100 miles away from Valparaiso, which is actually closer to potential conference foes Oakland and IUPUI.

-Because the conference is so spread-out, the Mid-Con could pick up teams from almost anywhere in the country. Multiple Independent schools exist that are no more of a stretch than already exists in a conference that has teams from Utah to Michigan and everywhere in between. Possibilities could include Utah Valley State, South Dakota State, North Dakota State, and Texas-Pan American. So if the Mid-Con wanted to add 5 teams, they're probably available for the asking. Given the low quality of play in the bottom of the league, it would be hard to argue that these independents did not meet minimum talent requirements for league admission.

-If this blog were consulting with the Mid-Con (from solely a men's basketball standpoint), it would probably suggest adding IPFW and UTPA. Adding 4 teams might make the biggest splash though, so throwing in the two Dakota schools would be a good way of Fanning the flames of publicity.

So some very interesting consequences to a seemingly unimportant migration.


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