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A challenge, indeed

I love the concept of the Mountain West-Missouri Valley Conference Challenge series, in which nine Valley teams (every team except Missouri State this season) faces the nine members of the Mountain West.

But I worry about how the Valley is going to stack up.

I hate writing those words because several years ago it appeared the MVC, which placed four teams in the 2006 NCAA Tournament, was going to have staying power. Coaches understood how important it was to schedule tough teams in the preseason and recruiting was going well.

But in the five seasons since reaching its apex, the Valley has fallen. Quite a bit. In fact, only one MVC team, Wichita State, received votes in the latest Associated Press college basketball poll. The Shockers, with three votes, are in a tie for No. 37.

Meanwhile, the Mountain West has three teams in the Top 25: San Diego State (17), BYU (21) and UNLV (24). Those three are a combined 18-0.

Here are the nine games that make up the Mountain West-Missouri Valley Conference Challenge:

Tonight – Colorado State at Drake, UNLV at Illinois State, BYU at Creighton, New Mexico at Southern Illinois.

Saturday – Wichita State at San Diego State, Northern Iowa at TCU, Utah at Bradley, Indiana State at Wyoming.

Sunday – Evansville at Air Force.

Let’s look at the individual games, in order:

I’m not sure Drake could beat the Colorado Manicurists School at this point. The Bulldogs are just awful. I give the edge to Colorado State.

Illinois State gets UNLV at home, at least. But the Redbirds haven’t played anybody and UNLV has already beaten Wisconsin, Tulsa, Murray State and Virginia Tech. Need I say more?

BYU has one of the best players in the country in guard Jimmy Fredette. Creighton is always tough at the Qwest Center, but the Bluejays probably aren’t ready to knock off a really high-quality team.

New Mexico, 4-1, lost by 24 points to Cal on Nov. 20. But the Lobos are good and play really tough defense. I don’t think Southern Illinois has improved much from last season.

Northern Iowa has a chance, but has to play an improved TCU team in Fort Worth. The Panthers clearly are struggling to find their 2009-10 mojo. Another tough game for the Valley.

Indiana State draws the Mountain West’s weakest link, but has to go to Wyoming.

Utah and Bradley have had really up-and-down seasons so far. Bradley is at home. Is that enough of an edge?

Evansville has lost to Indiana and beaten Butler. On Dec. 8, the Purple Aces play a home game against North Carolina. I repeat, a home game against North Carolina. I give Evansville a lot of credit. But can the Aces go on the road and beat Air Force?

Finally, Wichita State and San Diego State is the highlight game of the Series. This is a big one for both teams, because I think they’re locks for the NCAA Tournament. At least, San Diego State is because of the strength of the Mountain West. It’s hard not to like the Aztecs in this game. They’re at home, they’ll have a raucous crowd and they’re really, really good. Do the Shockers have a chance? Of course. But to beat San Diego State, WSU will need its best performance of the season. By far.

* One of the things I write about most here is sports media and how it is changing almost daily.

You have to admit, after all of the Cam Newton reporting of the past couple of weeks, the expectation was that the NCAA would come down on Newton hard for looking for love in all the wrong places – i.e. fleecing schools for financial gain in order to play quarterback at said school.

But the NCAA announced Wednesday that while Newton’s father was out trying to make deals, it can find no evidence that either Newton or Auburn was aware of those charades. Thus, Newton is eligible for Saturday’s SEC title game against South Carolina and we can all go back to our desks.

Shame on the reporters who first went with a story when, obviously, the story was not all that. And shame on news outlets such as ESPN for playing up the story to be a much bigger thing than it ever was. Unfortunately, in the eyes of some, Newton will forever be linked with a lack of ethics and if the NCAA’s findings are correct, that’s not fair to him.

This has the appearance of a Mississippi State orchestrated story, doesn’t it? Sure, Newton’s father was out of line by marketing his son. And stupid if he didn’t think that would get back to the wrong people. But if Newton was unaware of his father’s shenanigans, and if Auburn was never approached by the elder Newton, then there’s no harm and no foul according to the NCAA.

I know this: I never considered not giving Cam Newton my Heisman Trophy vote with the flimsy evidence of wrongdoing that was out there. And he might be the biggest runaway winner of the Heisman in the history of the award when the winner is announced a week from Saturday.

My Facebook Friend

Alison Brown UbertAlison and her three kidsLet’s see, Alison probably “likes” my Facebook posts more than anybody out there. Which is nice. I like to be liked and Alison is one of the most likable people I know. I first met her while hanging around former Wichita State All-America first baseman Phil Stephenson and his wife, Kim. She and Kim are sisters and were a lot of fun back in the day. Not that they’re not a lot of fun now. But isn’t everybody more fun back in the day? I haven’t seen Alison for a long time, but the beauty of Facebook is that you don’t need to see people to be friends. And I would definitely count Alison among my friends.

Here’s what she had to say – about herself and about our Facebook connection:My name is Alison Ubert. I am 39 years old with 4 children and one on the way! I am happily married to Jim Ubert and we live in Wichita. I am a painter/faux finisher and muralist for River City Finishes and love it! I met Bob through my brother in law, Phil Stephenson, years ago. Bob was supportive of a wiffle ball fundraiser tournament that Phil started to raise money for the Erin is Hope foundation that helps children with communication disorders. Bob also wrote a beautiful article about Phil and his son Bret, who is autistic.  I have followed Bob’s sports columns over the years and sometimes get to catch his sports talk show. I friend requested Bob on Facebook and am so glad that he added me!  I genuinely look forward to his posts…he has a dry wit that always makes me laugh!