ST. LOUIS — The book says the Valley is down, which is true, kinda sorta. But that’s not the full picture.
Wichita State (31-0, 18-0 Missouri Valley) didn’t so much feast on bad teams the last two months as much as it ate the MVC’s young. Which, with the exception of Indiana State, Drake and maybe Bradley, was pretty much everybody else on the circuit.
According to StatSheet.com, as of late Thursday afternoon, the Valley featured three teams among the least 40 experienced in Division I — Evansville (No. 4), Illinois State (No. 8), Loyola (No. 37) — or roughly one out of every 13. The MVC had four teams (add Southern Illinois to the mix at No. 88) among the youngest 90 and five teams (Missouri State, No. 115) among the youngest 120.
Among StatSheet’s 40 least-experienced programs — a formula which factors in average class year per minute played — Conference-USA led the way with five schools; The Valley, ACC and Metro Atlantic Athletic are next with three. The SEC, Big 12 and Big Ten had two each.
"That’s a pretty telling stat there," MVC commissioner Doug Elgin said. "I think it’s definitely the youngest starting 50 in our league that we’ve had in quite some time."
He ain’t foolin’. Get this: Of the top 15 scorers in the Valley last winter, none — zero, zip, nada — were freshmen or sophomores; this year there are five. Of the top 15 rebounders in the league in ’12-’13, two were freshmen or sophomores; this year, that total was four.
For most of the league, ’13-’14 was effectively one giant reset button. And if what goes around does, indeed, come back again …
"Mid-major conferences are very cyclical," SIU coach Barry Hinson said. "Mid-major teams are very cyclical.
"This (year) is a unique situation, but I think you’re getting a glimpse of what’s getting ready to happen over the next two, three years. I think we’re getting ready — we’re moving back where this league has two, three, four, multiple bids to the NCAA Tournament.
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"I know everybody talks about how we’ve got some experience, but for the most part, it’s a youthful renaissance going on right now … this is a glimpse of what’s getting ready to happen, so it’s going to be pretty nice."
The Salukis feature four seniors on their roster; Loyola has two. Evansville and Illinois State? None.
"My group, we’re not just young," Redbirds coach Dan Muller said. "But you look at youth, and experience is another measurement. We’re No. 1 as far as least experience with that category because we have two guys with one year (of) Division I experience.
"(But I’m) very proud of how they’ve come together. It bodes well for us next year, going forward. Just continue to gain experience and get older."
And, hopefully, wiser.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at email@example.com.