Dec. 29, 2004
As college basketball heads into conference play, we've heard how good the ACC is (and deservedly so). When a league has so many nationally ranked teams, you can understand the reputation.
Look at the seven ACC teams in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll this week: Wake Forest (No. 4), North Carolina (No. 5), Duke (No. 6), Georgia Tech (No. 9), NC State (No. 15), Maryland (No. 23) and Virginia (No. 25). All I can say is wow! And Florida State is no Cupcake City opponent, as Maryland found out when it just escaped with a 90-88 win in the ACC opener for both teams.
Miami also has shown it's capable of making some noise with quality wins over Florida and Massachusetts (after the Minutemen stunned Connecticut). Coach Frank Haith has to be pleased with his team, especially his young and quick guards.
|Coach Dana Altman and Creighton stunned Florida in the 2002 NCAA Tournament.|
While the ACC has been in the national spotlight, the Missouri Valley Conference is one league that has been under the radar this season. There is plenty of quality play in the MVC, and some interesting battles will take place.
I'd like to see some of the big boys play some of the MVC schools on the road. Instead, the little guys usually have to travel to get a game against schools from the bigger conferences.
The MVC features quality coaches, starting with Dana Altman of Creighton. He's taken the Bluejays to the NCAA Tournament five times in the past six seasons. Creighton shows great discipline.
Drake is coached by Dr. Tom Davis, the former Iowa head coach. Evansville knocked off Creighton recently. Evansville coach Steve Merfeld is a name fans may remember from his days at Hampton, when his team stunned No. 2 seed Iowa State in the Big Dance.
Southern Illinois has another solid team led by senior guard Darren Brooks, the reigning MVC player of the year (and defensive player of the year). An improved Bradley squad features talented forward Marcellus Somerville. SW Missouri State, Illinois State and Northern Iowa are very competitive teams.
Some of the MVC's early-season wins have been impressive. Wichita State won at Providence. Southern Illinois beat Vanderbilt and UTEP. Creighton beat Xavier (on the road), Missouri, Nebraska and Ohio State. Illinois State beat St. John's, Mississippi and Penn State. Bradley beat DePaul and Pepperdine.
There also have been some MVC close calls this season.
Northern Iowa lost to Cincinnati by six and at Iowa by three. The Salukis of Southern Illinois lost at Hawaii by two (and the Rainbow Warriors got off to their best start in more than 30 years). SW Missouri State gave Oklahoma a battle in Norman. Indiana State lost at Indiana by four. Evansville lost to Purdue by one.
This is the kind of season where the MVC can make a case for multiple bids in the NCAA Tournament. The conference deserves more respect, so keep an eye on it this season. There should be excitement galore as the competition heats up.
Dick Vitale coached the University of Detroit and the Pistons before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in December 1979. Send him a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.