Wichita State is leaving the Missouri Valley Conference and joining the American Athletic Conference. It was a move that the Shockers had to make.
In Wichita State’s opinion, it became too big for the Missouri Valley Conference.
After compiling a 194-83 record at Winthrop in the Big South, Shockers head men’s basketball coach Gregg Marshall has overseen a program that has gone 261-90 in the MVC, including six straight NCAA Tournament appearances, a run to the Final Four and a No. 1 seed in the 2014 Big Dance after an undefeated season.
Think about that for a second: an undefeated No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament for a Missouri Valley school.
The program’s success, however, ended up costing the Valley a valuable commodity, as the American Athletic Conference unanimously approved on Friday to add the Shockers as its 12th basketball member beginning in the 2017-18 season. The AAC is inheriting a program that was once a middling mid-major but is now a legitimate national title contender. The Shockers, who have won 10 NCAA Tournament games over the past five years and have a 68-4 record in the MVC over the past four seasons, did what is in the best interest of the program moving forward.
Despite boasting a 30-4 record on Selection Sunday, the NCAA Tournament selection committee only gave Marshall’s squad a No. 10 seed this past season. There was even talk about Wichita being on the “bubble” unless it won the league’s tournament title. Regular season co-champion Illinois State didn’t even make the Big Dance, which was a real slap in the face to the MVC.
The move to the AAC will allow Wichita State to receive a higher level of competition night in and night out, as the league sent Cincinnati and SMU to the NCAA Tournament this past season. UConn, which won the 2014 national championship, is also in the conference. If the Huskies as well as programs such as Memphis, Temple and Tulsa return to the level of play college hoops fans had been accustomed to seeing, this will unquestionably be one of the better leagues in the entire nation.
Looking ahead to 2017-18, Wichita State returns all of its key players from this past season’s 31-5 team, making it the likely AAC favorite in the preseason behind point guard Landry Shamet and forward Markis McDuffie.
It was simply a no-brainer for Wichita State to make the move because the NCAA Tournament selection committee will more often than not punish the squad if the MVC doesn’t boast many high-quality teams in a given year. At least if the AAC has a down year, it’s a league that ranks higher within the college basketball landscape. Despite the increased travel time within a league whose geographic footprint is rather wide, increased competition in the AAC is necessary for a program that deserves more balanced seeding come NCAA Tournament time. Only once have the Shockers received better than a No. 7 seed.
For the Missouri Valley, Wichita State’s move stinks. The league had already lost Creighton, so losing another marquee brand name is a brutal blow to a mid-major league that desperately needs Northern Iowa, Illinois State or Southern Illinois to become that annual MVC staple.
But for the Shockers, it was a move that they had to make if they want to continue to evolve as a program.