by Eli Boettger – August 17, 2017
The Wichita State Shockers have realigned for the first time since becoming a member of the Missouri Valley Conference back in 1945.
Thanks to Gregg Marshall’s decade-long surge into national relevancy, WSU has upgraded to the American Conference, where it will continue to grow its profile and respect across college basketball’s landscape.
Though realignment can open doors to future program success, immediate returns can be a mixed bag. Stronger non-conference schedules and more talented opponents are just two of the many factors that either bolster or wreck the trajectory of a program.
As for Wichita State, which has won 25 or more games in the past eight seasons, skeptics are having a difficult time believing that the Shockers can succeed in a more challenging conference. To an extent, the doubters are correct – pairing up with Connecticut, SMU, Cincinnati and Memphis on a nightly basis is vastly different than Loyola Chicago, Indiana State, Drake, and Evansville.
The table below shows the 15-year strength of schedule average for college basketball’s top 11 conferences. Wichita State, formerly of the Missouri Valley, moves to the American, which is a moderate upgrade in strength of schedule. Of the 11 conferences listed, the Missouri Valley has had the second-weakest average strength of schedule, and the American (founded in the 2013-14 season) is 7th among the 11 leagues – not a massive change.
In the next table, notable teams that have realigned to college basketball’s “power conferences” over the past 15 seasons are included. The teams’ change in strength of schedule over a three-year period is indicated, as well as the program’s overall win percentage change since becoming a member of the new conference. The win percentage change is divided by the number of seasons as a new conference member to properly weigh the effect of the realignment.
Though Louisville, Colorado and Maryland have succeeded in their new conferences (partially due to relative drop-offs in schedule strength), most effects of conference realignment have been entirely unpredictable.
A linear regression comparing strength of schedule change and win percentage change generated an R-squared value of 0.00841, meaning there is essentially no correlation between change in conference strength and team winning percentage.
In turn, whether you have Wichita State winning 30 or more games or stumbling into the middle of the American this season, history shows that change in conference strength carries almost no impact for realigned teams. As far as Wichita State is concerned, though, the Shockers have a stronger roster than at least the majority of the teams included in this data set. Most college basketball outlets project Wichita State as a top five team this upcoming season.
As it almost always goes for realignment, time will tell.
Wichita State is no exception.