Valley Hoops Insider reports the MVC is done visiting schools

As first reported by Harry Schroeder of Valley Hoops Insider, officials from the Missouri Valley Conference are finished visiting prospective schools and they will make a decision involving only the four schools visited this week: Murray State, Valparaiso, Omaha and Milwaukee.

Several outlets have confirmed that Valley officials have been to those four campuses and I’m told the campus visit portion of the process is over and only the schools that have been visited will be seriously considered as a new member of the MVC.

It’s been a whirlwind week for the MVC, as the conference’s Search and Screen Committee has had representatives visit each of the four schools this week. Murray State was visited Monday, Valpo hosted the committee Tuesday, Omaha had them on Wednesday and they finished after touring Milwaukee on Thursday.

Murray State’s rabid fan base is champing at the bit to get into the MVC, which would be a major improvement over the low-major OVC.

The visit to Milwaukee included a morning tour of UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena, with the significantly upgraded building impressing officials from the MVC. Between the Wisconsin Center District and the Milwaukee Admirals, nearly $10 million has been spent on upgrades to the Arena since 2014. Beyond the brand new merchandise store, a gorgeous new wrap-around HD scoreboard and replacement of every permanent seat in the building, Panther Arena has undergone several other improvements. The Panthers remain the top tenant in the facility even with the Admirals $6.3 million investment in upgrades.

Officially, the Missouri Valley Conference is open to expansion. It is unclear whether they simply plan to attempt to replace the departing Wichita State, or if they will make a huge national splash and add three new members to the conference. Reports have also come out stating the MVC may add two schools and get to 11, but the uneven number is seen by many as prolonging the sense of uncertainty in the MVC and creating scheduling difficulties.

Valpo’s ARC is a crazy environment for Crusaders home games.

Murray State University has had the most consistent, long-term success out of any of the prospective members. In the last 30 years, the Racers have been to the NCAA Tournament an impressive 13 times despite having eight different coaches in that time period. Their current coach, Matt McMahon, has not gotten them to the NCAA Tournament as a head coach but was an assistant for their appearance during the Steve Prohm era (2012). The Racers also feature one of the most active fan bases, with attendance hitting about 3,367 despite playing in the lowly Ohio Valley Conference. One hindrance to their candidacy is the fact that the OVC is a very close-quarters conference and they are geographically near the center of it; this has lead Murray State to have considerably low operations expenses reported to the NCAA. They’re also the only school of the four to carry a Division I scholarship football program. Basketball is king at Murray State but its football program could draw resources away from the program as they massively increase spending to get into the Missouri Valley Conference.

Horizon League conference member Valparaiso University is the most game-ready program out of the four, with two NCAA Tournaments and five Horizon League regular season championships in the past six seasons. All-time great forward Alec Peters finished his eligibility this season and former head coach Bryce Drew departed for Vanderbilt last year, but first-year head coach Matt Lottich earned a share of the regular season title despite losing Peters toward the end of the year after playing hampered with a stress fracture in his leg for much of the conference season. The Crusaders averaged 3,086 fans this season at the Athletics-Recreation Center, a facility that while aged is a dynamite atmosphere for college hoops.

Omaha’s hockey team and debt associated with Baxter Arena may stop the Mavericks from joining the MVC.

The University of Nebraska-Omaha of the Summit League are somewhat surprise entrants into the MVC mix. Having only been in Division I since 2011, the Mavericks only became eligible this season to play in the NCAA Tournament. Head coach Derrin Hansen has been with UNO since 2005 and has nearly 200 wins in his career; more than half of those, however, have come in Division II, where the Mavericks were a relatively successful program. They got a signature victory for the program this season with a 98-89 victory at Iowa on December 3rd and were two points short of making a trip to the NCAA Tournament in their first year of eligibility. Omaha’s upside looks nice, but the athletic program is in major debt after building Baxter Arena.

After years of playing hockey games downtown at CenturyLink Center Omaha and basketball games at Ralston Arena, the university decided to own their own facility. The downside of this is the massive costs associated with the facility; Omaha has debt that is growing every year due to the construction of Baxter Arena and its annual operating costs. Omaha is also hindered in its candidacy for the MVC by the existence of its hockey program, which draws considerable investment from the university and is not a sport sponsored by the Valley. The Mavericks also have no history of success in Division I and may be too new to the game to get into the MVC. Their fan base has not been established yet, as they only averaged 1,816 fans this season after putting 2,265 in the seats for Baxter Arena’s inaugural season and under 1,400 in 2015-16.

First-year head coach LaVall Jordan nearly took one of the youngest teams in the country to the NCAA Tournament.

Visited Thursday by MVC officials, Milwaukee is certainly a unique choice. While the Panthers have had relatively little success in the past five years, they did reach the NCAA Tournament in 2014 – later than Murray State’s most recent title and more than Omaha has in its history. The Panthers also averaged a paltry 1,461 fans in 2016-17, due to a number of causes such as the bloody PR disaster surrounding the firing of Rob Jeter and the lack of a salaried employee in the ticket office due to department reshuffling and the departure of assistant ticket manager Eric Becker for Pitt in late summer. Attendance has averaged over 5,000 in multiple years  The program spent a rough year in transition under first-year head coach LaVall Jordan, but the Panthers surged in the conference tournament, defeating three higher seeds (including fellow MVC prospect Valparaiso) before dipping out in the conference championship game, 59-53.

Jordan’s Panthers are looking up with a strong 2017 recruiting class. Joining athletic and talented 6’6″ wing forward Zac Saddler from 2016 are Vance Johnson, a 6’9″ juco forward with tons of athleticism and high upside; Dylan Alderson, a 6’3″ guard who committed prior to making a big jump in his game as a senior leader for a state championship team; Caleb Nero, a fill-the-bucket scoring guard who broke Tulsa Memorial’s single-season scoring record on the way to a state championship; and Carson Newsome, a 6’5″ athletic wing who has a high ceiling that he may just be able to touch. In signing Johnson, LaVall Jordan’s staff beat out current Valley schools Bradley and Evansville for his services.

Milwaukee’s prospects in joining the MVC are murky at best; neither the university or the conference are commenting at this time. We’ll have more as the story continues to unfold.

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