Doug Elgin is like the rest of us. The longtime commissioner of the Missouri Valley Conference sometimes catches himself wondering “What if?” in a season that — to borrow a phrase from Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities — is the best of times and worst of times for his league.

“Creighton would have raised the bar,” Elgin said of the ex-Valley member, which is celebrating its rookie season in the Big East Conference with a top-10 ranking.

Instead, the Valley has Wichita State and everyone else. The Shockers (30-0 overall, 17-0 Valley) are ranked No. 2 and go for an undefeated regular season at home on Saturday against Missouri State. They might even wind up a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament.

They’ll also be the Valley’s only NCAA representative, barring a major upset at the conference tournament next week. If Creighton had stayed one more year?

“Who knows what would have happened,” Elgin said of games between the Shockers and Bluejays that won’t happen. “It would have been remarkable.”

Meanwhile, Wichita State is left to carry the Valley banner. And it’s attracting plenty of national attention, including the cover of Sports Illustrated last week. On the flip side, bashers hammer away at the Shockers’ credibility because of the company they keep.

Some members of the national media have taken “unfair swings” at the rest of the league, Elgin said. He calls the Valley “very competitive” yet admits it’s “absolutely not” near the level of 2006 when four Valley teams reached the NCAA Tournament.

But the league could be laying the groundwork for a resurgence in what’s clearly been a season of transition for everyone not named Wichita State and Indiana State, a distant-but-distinctive second place. There’s a lot of young talent playing significant roles.

Evansville is getting 92.2 percent of its points from sophomores and freshmen, while Southern Illinois gets 59 percent of its offense from those classes. Illinois State, like Evansville, doesn’t have a senior. And league newcomer Loyola, woeful No. 286 in the RPI, has the likely Valley freshman of the year in Milton Doyle.

Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson said this season compares favorably to the 2003-04 season. That was the year his highly touted freshman class at Missouri State, which included Blake Ahearn, got its feet wet.

Two years later, the Bears were in the mix for the NCAA Tournament, omitted despite an RPI of 21. Four others went to the tournament with Wichita State and Bradley — with mainly junior and senior teams — reaching the Sweet 16.

The Valley ranks 11th in the RPI this season after being eighth the past two years, when Creighton and Wichita State went to the NCAA tournament. It was sixth in 2006 and 2007 after ranking 14th in 2003 and 11th in 2004.

“I think it’s very similar now to (10 years ago),” Hinson said. “This league has always been about juniors and second, fourth- and fifth-year guys, and it always will be. This league has got a lot of good freshmen and sophomores, and I’m excited about the future of our league.”

Missouri State took its lumps last season, finishing 11-22, as coach Paul Lusk committed to building through mostly high school recruiting classes. Marcus Marshall was the freshman of the year in 2012-13. This season, Austin Ruder has started 28 games as a rookie, averaging 8.8 points.

Elgin said he’s also encouraged by a good base of young big men. Evansville has 6-11 sophomore Edijus Mockevicious, Illinois State has 6-9 freshman Reggie Lynch, Missouri State includes 6-11 freshman Tyler McCullough and Drake has 6-10 freshman Jacob Eneveld.

But it takes more than talent. Elgin said coaching continuity is imperative. Six Valley coaches are in their first, second or third seasons at their schools. The upheaval has been disruptive as it takes time for coaches to put their stamp on a program.

“When you’re looking at a resurgence,” Elgin said, “it starts with coaches.”

And better nonconference scheduling. Elgin pulls no punches when addressing official NCAA statistics that find six league teams — Drake (191), Indiana State (207), Evansville (243), Southern Illinois (245), Bradley (291) and Loyola (337) — in the bottom half of nonconference schedule strength.

Wichita State (38) and Northern Iowa (41) are solid, and Missouri State (142) and Illinois State (156) are barely in the top half of 349 D-I teams.

“I’m absolutely unhappy with our nonconference strengths of schedules,” Elgin said. “We have five teams 200 or worse and it has to change.

“A lot of hat is not intentional. It’s easy to say you need to schedule better, but it’s tougher to execute.”