According to ESPN’s Andy Katz, the board of directors of the American Athletic Conference will vote on whether to let Wichita State in tomorrow. If the vote comes up in the Shockers’ favor, they could be playing in the league as soon as next season. Obviously this would have major implications for WSU’s current conference (Missouri Valley Conference) and all the teams in the AAC, including the Cincinnati Bearcats.
Under the tutelage of Gregg Marshall (and Mark Turgeon before that), the Shockers have been in the midst of a basketball renaissance. They made it to the NCAA Tournament for the sixth-straight season this past March and are three years removed from a Sweet 16 berth and four years from earning a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance. They won 31 games this past season, marking their fourth 30-win campaign in the last five. According to KenPom, Wichita State was the eighth-best team in college basketball this season based on adjusted efficiency margin, but its strength of schedule was ranked just 102nd. Obviously moving into the AAC would be a slam dunk for them in terms of increasing competition level and building in better resume-building contests.
But what should we on the UC side of things make of this?
A year ago we were slurping up Big 12 expansion news at a rapid pace, so UC is no stranger to conference realignment issues. This, though, marks a different beast, as UC is now in the league another team wants to join. Obviously the Big 12 rumors and hype was all based on football, with basketball being just a nice side effect. This possible decision will be entirely based on basketball. Wichita State doesn’t even have a football team, let alone one that could compete at the Division I level.
So, since we can focus on the basketball side alone, this seems like a very simple and easy yes from UC’s perspective. Right now, SMU, UC and usually UConn are the dominant forces in a top-heavy league. That means the Bearcats don’t have a slew of tough-notch opponents to build itself up with. Sure, they do a solid job of scheduling, with Xavier, Butler, Rhode Island and Iowa State serving as excellent benchmarks this past season, but that all gets deluded by the matchups with Tulane, USF and East Carolina. We just looked at Wichita State’s strength of schedule with some derision, but its not like UC was playing 30 Kentucky’s all year, ranking 80th in SOS. Aside from joining a new and better conference, UC can most help its SOS and standing as a program, as well as the standing of the AAC as a whole, by the addition of more successful programs. Wichita State is one of those. Plus, on a more semantic level, Wichita State’s addition would also even out the number of team’s in the conference, making the AAC a 12-team league in basketball.
In conclusion, UC should be excited about the possibility of Wichita State joining the conference. Sure, it will make it harder to win the league and bring a whole new monster to the pool, but if the Bearcats want the respect they deserve, they need to be willing to challenge themselves.