The question that has been surfacing over the past several weeks involves the undefeated and second-ranked Wichita State Shockers. Can they repeat last year’s run to the Final Four and better yet, are they worthy of a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament?
Depending on where you live surely determines your answer to said questions.
They are a mid-major but the parity in college basketball is insane. Wichita State is number two in the AP Top 25 Poll. Saint Louis is tenth. San Diego State sits fourteenth. Southern Methodist is number 23 while New Mexico rounds out the poll at number 25.
Five mid-major programs in the top 25 with five more receiving votes, including a Stephen F. Austin club that’s won 23 straight games.
The focus, however, remains on head coach Gregg Marshall and the Shockers.
In just under an hour, they’ll look to cap off a perfect 31-0 regular season with a game against Missouri State, who was tied with Wichita State with a minute and a half remaining in their first meeting. Maybe the Bears can shock the world.
Wichita State will not shock the world and improve on last year’s improbable run. The reason? They have not been tested.
Twenty-three of their wins are against teams with an RPI of 101 or greater, for whatever that’s worth. Their signature win was at Saint Louis. Win, not wins. The Shockers ended the game on a 16-7 run for the 70-65 comeback victory. Sure, that’s a great win, especially when you see how solid Saint Louis (25-3, 12-1 A-10) is this year.
The Shockers are a tough and talented group and it all starts with Marshall, who’s “had to fight and scratch and claw for every single thing. Does everybody in the world of basketball think I’m the greatest thing? No.” How true this must ring in the Shockers locker room.
Haters gonna hate, right? When your strength of schedule is 113, you better believe it. Their out of conference SOS (29) is better though, so how haven’t been tested?r next best wins are over BYU (75-62) and Tennessee (70-61), both teams on the bubble.
They have four guys who average better than 10 points per game, led by Cleanthony Early‘s 15.7. They’re solid on the glass, grabbing 38.6 rebounds per game. They make their free throws (74.1 percent) and play physical defense without fouling. They’re so talented but they haven’t been tested.
It’s easier said than done, but you’ve got to force the Shockers to shoot from the perimeter. They’ve got two guy (Early and Ron Baker) who can beat you from outside and as a team, they shoot just 34 percent from three. Sophomore Fred VanVleet is likely to have the ball in his hands when it’s crunch time but he’s hardly the focus on offense because they’ve got so many options.
It’s easy to see why the Shockers are number two in the country and undefeated, but they haven’t been tested.
Last year was last year. They know how to win and surely remember how close they came to the title game a year ago, but it’s a new year.
Ultimately, it’ll boil to down to the draw. Last year, as a number nine seed, they opened up in a good matchup with Pittsburgh, a team that struggled to score but played a physical game — or exactly the way Wichita State played. They then took on number one-seed Gonzaga, a mid-major who everyone doubted as a number one seed (this all sounds familiar, right?) before beating an upstart 13-seed LaSalle team making as much noise as the Shockers were. They then took down two-seed Ohio State despite nearly blowing a 20-point halftime lead and eventually bowed out to eventual national champion Louisville.
Every time they take the floor, they get the opponents best shot, so in a sense they’ve been tested. The problem is the Missouri Valley Conference is a one-trick pony. Indiana State is a good program, but they lost to the Shockers by 20 in Wichita and seven at home.
Wichita State has the players to get the job done, but it’s a new year and they’re not sneaking up on anyone. Their soft schedule will come back to bite them and one team will shock the Shockers before the Final Four.
Maybe Missouri State will shock the world today.