HONOLULU - ESPN college basketball analyst Doug Gottlieb did not forecast a great season for SIU's men's basketball team earlier this week, but said the Missouri Valley Conference may get more than one team into the NCAA tournament for the first time in a long time in 2012.
Gottlieb called all three of SIU's games at the Diamond Head Classic over the weekend. In between games on Thursday, Gottlieb said in a year where there could be lots of mid-major opportunities, the Valley already had some solid non-conference resumes. Entering last week, the MVC was 2-3 against top 25 teams, with Wichita State beating No. 18 UNLV and Indiana State beating No. 25 Vanderbilt on the road.
"We do have a tendency, as far as mid-majors, to look at good wins and not at the losses, you know? I thought Wichita, they had two opportunities to get wins in Puerto Rico when I was there and they lost both of them, but I think they're really good," Gottlieb said. "Northern (Iowa) got popped at home by Ohio U., but I think they're there. It should be a two or three-big league, and it might be a four-bid league, depending on how Creighton finishes up here in the non-conference. The Pac-12 appears to have given up some bids. The Big East in the middle is just OK. The Big Ten, I think, has been a little bit over-inflated, some wins have overshadowed a lot of the losses, so I think it's definitely a multi-bid league."
The MVC went nine straight years with at least two bids to the NCAA tournament (1999-2007), but since SIU and Creighton made the field in 2007, the Valley has managed only one bid the last four. The league may be in position to break that streak in 2012. Entering Sunday's games, the league had five teams in the top 100 RPI, according to RealTimeRPI.com, and defending regular-season champion Missouri State at No. 112.
Creighton was ranked No. 23/21 in last week's national top 25 polls, and three teams, Wichita State, Northern Iowa and Indiana State, received votes in The Associated Press poll.
Northern Iowa (10-2) had an RPI of 6, while Creighton (No. 14), Wichita State (27), Indiana State (47) and Drake (92) also made the top 100. SIU fell to No. 328 of 344 teams with its third straight loss and faces a good league schedule, Gottlieb said.
"I think Southern is going to be OK, because they're getting their guys back," he said. "The problem is, the league is really good, especially at the top. Indiana State. Northern (Iowa). Wichita. Creighton. That's a good league this year, so, if they had this team in the league two years ago, they'd be in better shape."
Two years ago, SIU finished 15-15 overall and 6-12 in the MVC. UNI won the league with a 15-3 record and reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.
The Salukis open MVC play Thursday at Evansville (5-5). The Purple Aces were No. 249 on the RPI list. Tipoff at the brand-new Ford Center in Evansville, Ind., is set for 7 p.m.
On Twitter: @Todd_Hefferman