Attendance Peaking in Valley

The Missouri Valley is on the heels of the power conferences in attendance

Oct. 5, 2006

By Bryan Armen Graham



BRYAN GRAHAM

Bryan is a basketball editor for CSTV.com and contributes on a regular weekly basis.
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Over the past half-decade, the Missouri Valley Conference has closed the gap between its member schools and the power conference programs on the hardwood.

 

If the most recent attendance figures are any indicator, the Valley is doing the same thing in the stands.

 

With six schools in the RPI Top 40, four in the NCAA tournament, a pair in the Sweet 16 and one player selected in the NBA draft lottery, last season represented a national coming-out for the Valley. And the attendance numbers reflect it.

 

The MVC drew a record 1.2 million fans during its breakthrough year. The nation's second-oldest basketball league averaged 7,716 fans across the board, a figure within shouting distance of the Pac-10 (7,909).

 

The league's standard-bearer from an attendance standpoint remains Creighton, which averaged a record 13,900 fans in 17 games at the spacious Qwest Center -- the 20th-best number in Division I and a figure greater than Texas (13,024), Oklahoma (11,805), national champ Florida (10,851) and Pitt (10,624). Ironically, despite an impressive profile and respectable RPI (No. 39), the Blue Jays were not one of the four MVC schools to make the Big Dance.

 

The rowdy, raucous crowds have afforded the league's member schools a decided home court advantage. Last season's top six clubs -- Bradley, Creighton, Missouri State, UNI, Southern Illinois and Wichita State -- combined for a 33-3 record in non-conference home games.

 

"Last year, the biggest crowd in the history of the state of Nebraska came to Qwest Center in Omaha for an 11 p.m. local start time game," said Doug Elgin, commissioner of the MVC. Fresno State and Creighton drew a sellout crowd of 15,700 fans that night.

 

Wichita State averaged 10,435 fans (No. 37 in Division I) at 10,478-seat Koch Arena. In the wake of one of the most memorable seasons in program history, the mania surrounding the Shockers hasn't died down. The last of the 8,900 available season tickets for the building were sold before the end of August, more than two months before the first tip-off.

 

Bradley, a Sweet 16 entrant after upending Kansas and Pitt, netted 9,220 fans per game (good for No. 54 in Division I).

 

Flash of Brilliance

 

Marquette has announced its plans to raise the No. 3 jersey of former standout Dwyane Wade to the Bradley Center rafters when the Golden Eagles host Providence on Feb. 3.

 

Wade, the dynamic guard who led the Miami Heat to the franchise's first-ever NBA title in June, spirited the Milwaukee university to an improbable Final Four appearance in 2003. That year, Marquette became the first Catholic school to reach the national semifinals since Seton Hall in 1989.

 

Eight other players have had their uniform numbers retired in the 90-year history of the program: Dean Meminger (No. 14), Butch Lee (No. 15), Maurice Lucas (No. 20), George Thompson (No. 24), Bo Ellis and Doc Rivers (No. 31), Earl Tatum (No. 43) and Don Kojis (No. 44).

 

Wade played at Marquette for two seasons and led the Golden Eagles to 53 victories, a pair of NCAA appearances and the sixth-best winning percentage in Division I during that span.

 

"Initially, we intended to wait while Dwyane worked towards his degree during the summer but no one could have foreseen how quickly and dramatically his life would change, particularly with postseason play and national team commitments. We've developed a long-range plan that will allow Dwyane to earn his degree." said Marquette coach Tom Crean in a release.

 

Trivia Bag

 

Most know that UCLA holds the NCAA record for consecutive victories (88), but whose mark did the Bruins eclipse? (Answer below.)

 

Circle The Date

 

Nov. 12: Arizona vs. Virginia at John Paul Jones Arena (Charlottesville, Va.)

 

Give Lute Olson credit. While the coaches of most bona fide Final Four contenders keep their clubs at home during November to cut their teeth on the bottom feeders of the collegiate scene, the 74-year-old Hall of Famer is bringing his Wildcats to Charlottesville to christen the sparkling-new, $130 million John Paul Jones Arena in the season opener for both sides. The improved Cavaliers return their top eight players from last year's ACC middlers. Leading the way are Sean Singletary and J.R. Reynolds, whose combined 34.7 points per game constituted the most prolific scoring backcourt in the country. Arizona is looking Sweet 16 good with proven veterans Mustafa Shakur, Jawann McClellan, Ivan Radenovic and Marcus Williams returning to Tucson. But the team's stock could skyrocket in a hurry if blue-chip recruit Chase Budinger lives up to advance billing. The 6-foot-7 Budinger, a McDonald's All-American from Encinitas, Calif., has the ability to play all five positions on the floor and could challenge Kevin Durant and Greg Oden for National Freshman of the Year honors.

 

Trivia Answer

 

With future Hall of Famer Bill Russell manning the middle, San Francisco won 60 consecutive games between 1955 and 1957.

 

Milli-Grahams

 

·         Illinois off guard Rich McBride, the team's leading returning scorer, was arrested and charged with DUI and improper traffic lane usage Friday near the school's Champaign campus. Illini coach Bruce Weber has suspended the senior for an undetermined number of games. McBride averaged 10.0 points and 2.1 assists while starting all 33 games as a junior.

 

·         The man responsible for putting together the Fab Five has found a second coaching life in SoCal. San Diego State coach Steve Fisher inked a five-year contract extension last week, months after leading the Aztecs to a program record for victories (24), a Mountain West title and a rare trip to the NCAAs. This season, Fisher has his club poised for an encore performance, what with four starters returning including Brandon Heath, the reigning MWC Player of the Year.