Mountain West-Missouri Valley Challenge has flaws

Sam Lounsberry

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa – The CSU basketball team’s upset over Northern Iowa on Saturday was certainly impressive, but the game never should have happened.

At least, that’s what CSU coach Larry Eustachy thinks.


The bout was part of the Mountain West-Missouri Valley Challenge, which was revived for this season following a three year hiatus. Originally, the MW-MVC challenge ran from the 2009-10 season to 2012-13. Its renewal for this year was announced April 2 in a MW press release.

But its matchups were not solidified by a logical process, according to Eustachy.

“Annual matchups for teams in the Challenge Series will be based upon factors including the previous year’s achievements, records and RPI rankings, as well as projected rankings/strength of teams in the upcoming season, based on composite sources,” the MW said in its press release announcing the renewal of the series.

That is not how it was done, though.

MW-MVC Challenge Quick Facts:

  • Previously ran from 2009-10 season to 2012-13.
  • MW posted a 22-13 record in the series during that period.
  • The MW’s 16 overall NCAA Tournament participants during that period mark the best four years in the league’s 16-years since its conception.
  • At least three MW teams advanced to the NCAA Tournament each year during the four-year span, including a league-record five teams in 2013 and four in both 2010 and 2012.
  • Before Saturday, CSU last played Evansville in 2012-13 installment of series, winning 79-72 behind 19 points from Greg Smith and 16-point 12-rebound double-double from future second round NBA draft pick Colton Iverson.

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Instead, Eustachy said the MW conference meeting between all its men’s basketball coaches and league commissioner involved coaches influencing who they would play in the MW-MVC Challenge.

“(San Diego State coach) Steve Fisher played Illinois State because he went there,” Eustachy said Saturday. “And then UNLV drew Wichita State and said, ‘We’re not going.’ And so during the meeting, Larry Shyatt from Wyoming goes, ‘I’ll go.’ What is this shi*?  Why don’t we just go rock-paper-scissors and figure it out?”

UNLV did end up accepting the Wichita State game, and will play the Shockers on Dec. 9. But still, if the matchups in the series were truly decided in part by how well each team is projected to fair in the upcoming season, it is doubtful CSU would have drawn UNI, one of the MVC’s two annual powerhouses along with Wichita State. The Rams were picked to finish seventh in the MW by the preseason coaches poll.

“I think we actually put our names up there and our commissioner just threw a dart and he happened to hit Northern Iowa, that’s who we’re going to play,” Eustachy said.


Scheduling of the MW-MVC Challenge Series should emulate that of the Big 10-ACC Challenge, and other similar cross-conference challenge series.

 “There’s no rhyme or reason, we need to be more organized. North Carolina in the ACC will play whoever is picked first in the Big 10,” Eustachy added.

Despite the tough UNI draw, it worked out well for the Rams as they rolled to victory 84-78, plus it afforded Eustachy the chance to return to Iowa, which he enjoyed.

“I do have a little history in Iowa and you’re sending me back there, not that I mind it, but where is the consistency here?” he asked.

Even with his scheduling gripes, Eustachy finds the revival of the challenge series beneficial for the teams in both leagues.

“I think it’s a great idea, there just has to be more research into it about where you think these teams are going to be, and not have coaches changing during the league meeting,” he said.

The former Iowa State head coach even doted on the players Missouri Valley teams recruit out of the their respective region.

“The midwest has great high school coaches who teach these kids at an early, early age the fundamentals,” Eustachy said.

He delved into his recruiting attempts of Iowa natives and future NBA players Kirk Heinrich and Nick Collison, both of whom ended up playing for Kansas instead of under Eustachy at Iowa State, and blamed his courting of them for missing out on another Iowa legend, Kyle Korver, an NBA All-Star last year who played in the MVC at Creighton when it was still a part of the league.

That story was his evidence of the talent in the Missouri Valley and the benefits provided to the Mountain West by playing its teams.

“I’m all over Heinrich and Collison, and there’s a guy named Korver who I’d never heard of who signs with Creighton,” Eustachy said. “There are great, great players in this area – right in this area (Iowa), let alone the midwest. I think it is good.”

With the win in this year’s MW-MVC Challenge, Eustachy expects another tough draw for next season.

“So now, supposedly, we’re supposed to have someone come to our place, and I’m sure it will be Wichita State,” he said.  “But it’s good, because it’s hard to get games.”

Thanks to CSU picking up the win Saturday, the MW now leads the challenge series 2-1. On Friday night, San Diego State beat Illinois State and Air Force fell to Southern Illinois. The next phase of the series tips off Monday when Wyoming plays at Indiana State.

Sam Lounsberry can be reached at and on Twitter @samlounz.