March 19, 2006
Is anyone questioning the Missouri Valley Conference now?
Saturday it was Wichita State knocking off No. 2 seed Tennessee. Then came Bradley with upset wins over No. 4 seed Kansas and No. 5 Pittsburgh to make it to the Sweet 16.
Not since the days of Xavier McDaniel and Hersey Hawkins have Wichita State and Bradley made this kind of noise in the tournament. College basketball fans have to respect what the MVC is all about. In fact, I felt Missouri State was snubbed by the tournament selection committee.
The Braves have moved on thanks to tenacious defense and great quickness to the ball on rebounds. America is learning all about Patrick O'Bryant and Marcellus Sommerville up front. It was O'Bryant who came up big with 28 points against Pittsburgh and foul-plagued big man Aaron Gray.
Both Wichita State and Bradley are led by coaches who were solid, tough guards during their playing days. Jim Les was a standout with the Braves and is doing a super job at his alma mater. Mark Turgeon was on the 1986 Final Four team at Kansas that lost to Duke, and was on the coaching staff of the 1988 national championship team.
Missouri Valley Conference commissioner Doug Elgin has to be jumping with joy after Bradley and Wichita State advanced to the Sweet 16. He deserves a lot of credit for the conference's rise in status. He has always been a hard worker ever since his days at Virginia.
Let's put Bradley's win into perspective: Kansas won the Big 12 Tournament championship. Pittsburgh was in the Big East Tournament title game and beat Villanova to get to the championship game. This is not a small feat for a Bradley team that was one of the last to make the Big Dance.
Turgeon is one of the rising stars in the coaching profession. Several different players have stepped up in the tournament for the Shockers. Sean Ogirri and Paul Miller keyed the first-round win over Seton Hall. Saturday, 6-foot-8 forward Kyle Wilson hit some big shots in the first half, and 6-4 swingman P.J. Cousinard came through down the stretch to get the Shockers into the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1981. Cousinard finished with 20 big points.
Bradley and Wichita State have sent a message to those critics who questioned the strength of the Missouri Valley Conference. My friends, they are legitimate, and separating the top six teams in that conference is difficult. That's how good the league was this season.
It was a great weekend for the MVC. Don't overlook Bradley and Wichita State the rest of the way, because these teams can flat out play!
Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979. Send a question for Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.