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A New Challenge For MWC

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — League looking at alternatives to hoops series with Missouri Valley

When the New Mexico Lobos play at Indiana State on Saturday, it will be the final time the Lobos take part in the Missouri Valley/Mountain West Challenge.

At least for now.

The two leagues are in the final season of a four-year contract pitting teams from both conferences against one another each season in an effort to boost the overall conference RPIs of both leagues.

New Mexico at Indiana State, noon, 770 AM
• • •
• Lobos roster
• Schedule/Results
• Geoff Grammer’s blog

Officials from both conferences agree the Challenge has achieved that goal, and both leagues rode higher RPI rankings a season ago into multiple teams playing in the NCAA Tournament. But the contract will not be renewed for the 2013-14 season, and it isn’t yet clear whether the Mountain West will agree to resume the deal in the future.

Missouri Valley coaches and administrators are “nearly unanimous” in their desire to continue the series as soon as the 2014-15 season, according to Commissioner Doug Elgin. The Mountain West, however, is still exploring all its options.

“I think we’ve got to be a league, with all this realignment, trying to get a challenge that’s out west – whether it’s Big 12 or Pac-12, the Big West or something like that,” said New Mexico coach Steve Alford, who once coached in the MVC. “The Missouri Valley is in the Midwest, and there isn’t a whole lot we’re doing as a league in the Midwest. Something out west, I think, would be maybe a little more beneficial.”

Mountain West Senior Associate Commissioner Dan Butterly, who also has past ties to the MVC, said the league was advised in 2006 that if the conference RPI was improved slightly across the board – by as little as adding one quality non-conference game for every school – there was a better chance of seeing more teams invited to the Big Dance.

“It’s proven to be very beneficial, I would say, especially over the last three years in how we’ve gotten multiple teams in the NCAA Tournament and how we’re looking to do that again this year,” Butterly said.

The Mountain West has had a league RPI ranking between No. 4 and No. 6 the last three seasons and twice has had four teams enter the NCAA Tournament.

The MVC had a league RPI last year of No. 8 and had two teams – Creighton and Wichita State – play in the NCAA Tournament.

“If you look at last year, there’s no question that the calling cards that Creighton and Wichita State had were wins over Mountain West schools,” Elgin said, referring to Creighton beating San Diego State and Wichita State knocking off UNLV. “And I think that in the year that the Mountain West had four teams in the tournament, it came at the hands of utter dominance of our league. It certainly helped.”

Indiana State coach Greg Lansing said there is another reason he hopes the arrangement continues.

“These are two tremendous basketball leagues that are made up of basketball schools,” Lansing said. “You’re not talking about a bunch of programs known just as football schools. These are programs with real good basketball teams and this has made for some real good basketball games.”

Through three games of the challenge this season, the Mountain West holds an 18-11 advantage in the series. UNM has a 3-0 record, having beaten Creighton in 2009, Southern Illinois in 2010 and Missouri State in 2011.

STILL HOT: The Mountain West is still enjoying as hot a start as any conference in the nation. Through Thursday it boasted a record of 45-9 and was the only conference in Division I without a double-digit loss.

“I’m very happy with the start we’ve had,” Butterly said. “Obviously we’ve still got a long way to go – a month and a half before we start conference play. But I’m excited about where the Mountain West is, and this is pretty much where we saw this year starting.”

The league has three ranked teams in No. 23 San Diego State, No. 24 UNLV and No. 25 UNM. Only the Big Ten and Big East have more in the AP Top 25. Colorado State (5-0) is receiving votes in both major Top 25 polls, and Boise State may be next.

On Wednesday, the 5-1 Broncos knocked off No. 11 Creighton in Omaha, 83-70, in the MVC/MWC Challenge.

ELITE COMPANY: After Wednesday’s win over Mercer, UNM joined No. 1 Indiana and No. 2 Duke as the only teams in the country with at least seven wins over Division I teams and at least one win over a ranked team.

LOBOS LINKS: Roster | Schedule/Results | Geoff Grammer’s blog

— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal