by Alex Chiles
- Koch Arena will be alive again
Not so long ago, Koch Arena was a loud place. The crowd would explode when Creighton (or Southern Illinois at their prime) would have to call a time out after a Shocker run. The last few years there has been a lot to cheer about but not much to get excited for. Contrast that with their new situation: for the next few years every conference team that comes to play in Wichita will be exciting for the fans regardless of who it is. Quality team? Let’s go, this will be fun. AAC bottom feeder? Who cares, they’re new to us- let’s check them out!
- The pressure won’t be on the non-con anymore
Gone will be the days of all the pressure being on Wichita State to perform early in the season against a tough non-conference schedule. While WSU will need to continue beating the weaker AAC teams (and soundly to please KenPom), they will have several opportunities for high quality home and road wins built-in to every conference schedule. This is to Marshall’s advantage in particular, as his teams generally improve throughout the season (I know, novel concept), and he will no longer be punished by the committee for not beating good teams in November.
- It gives Gregg Marshall yet another reason to stick around
Not that he really needs more reasons: he’s a top 10 paid coach (in Wichita, KS of all places- factor in cost of living and he might be the highest paid coach in college basketball) and he’s got arguably his best team ever coming back next year pretty much completely intact (#5 on KenPom’s extremely early 2018 top ten list). However, if Marshall has even small part of him that wants his job to be more “elite”, upgrading to a bigger, more competitive conference is a step in the right direction. Marshall should still be able to get WSU to the NCAA Tournament like he has done consistently, but he will now have plenty of mid to late season opportunities to improve seeding.
- The Shockers will be more tournament-ready
I don’t completely buy this argument, as WSU has consistently shown they can compete with great teams in the NCAA Tournament. However, playing in the AAC will give the Shockers more opportunities to see a variety of GOOD teams playing a variety of styles, which is much different than seeing a weak MVC team try a zone the Shocks have never seen before.
- Recruiting just got a little bit easier
It’s true that not every child goes to bed at night dreaming of playing in the AAC someday. However, it’s just as true that children have nightmares about the Missouri Valley. It may not be the biggest factor in a young recruit’s decision, but it may be a little easier to pitch a big-time game in late February against UCONN instead of, say, Loyola.
“HOLD ON JUST A SEC HERE…”
- The AAC isn’t a dream conference as it is…
Every conference has its bottom feeders, but several teams in the AAC will remind Shocker fans a little too much of the Valley. Matchups against East Carolina (probably the least interesting Carolina, but at least we might get to hold up “East Carolina Isn’t a State” signs at games) and Tulane (proud owners of a home arena that holds 3,600 people) might feel like the Shockers made a lateral move at times.
- …and it may be changing soon
The best reasons to join the conference are also the most fleeting. I’m pretty sure UCONN and Cincinnati, who will be the Shockers best chances at quality wins year after year, would join a Power 5 conference in exchange for two pennies and a ball of lint. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kevin Ollie has a “go bag” ready for just that occasion.
- No more Arch Madness
Although it hasn’t always been easy for the Shockers to win conference tournaments, at least fans were within driving distance of Arch Madness every year in St. Louis. Contrast that with the AAC, who played its most recent conference tournament in Hartford, Connecticut. Shocker fans better hope the AAC considers Tulsa in the near future or maybe even Wichita down the road as potential host cities.
- It may present challenges for baseball’s slow comeback
While the basketball and volleyball teams have seemingly outgrown the Valley, the Shockers baseball team (who is doing its best impression of a slow-building monster flick at the moment) were in a comfortable situation. As they steadily improve, the Valley would have theoretically offered them a consistent gateway to post-season play. In the AAC, it’s possible that recruiting might pick up as a result of the move, but for the foreseeable future the post-season might be a little out of reach.
- The Valley is the biggest loser here
For those who may care about the ex we’re leaving behind, I’m with you. The Shocks have been with the Valley since World War II ended, and it’s difficult to leave even when you know it’s the right thing to do. Unfortunately, the Valley has now lost their best two teams in the last 4 years and is left considering replacements such as Oakland, Valpo, or any school with “Dakota” in its name. Ouch.