Rodney Dangerfield must have a Wichita State Shockers pennant in his casket; there’s no other way to explain why pollsters and bracketologists alike are not giving the last season’s Final Four darlings enough respect this year. Perhaps tonight’s 72-67 road victory over Alabama will change pundits’ minds.
One would think that a perfect 11-0 record that includes a win over perpetual threat Brigham Young, victories over two teams that made last season’s NCAA Tournament (with a likely win against 2013 participant Davidson coming up) and three wins over teams from power conferences would be enough to garner a top-10 ranking at the very least. However, the No. 11 Shockers are perched just outside the glorified air while three one-loss teams and the 7-2 Duke Blue Devils reside within the hallowed grounds of the top 10.
There are a lot of reasons to believe that Wichita State can — and will — replicate last season’s thrilling parade through March Madness.
For starters, two teams have scored more than 70 points in a game against the Shockers this season, and those opponents only managed to claw their way out of the 60s once Wichita State’s backups were in the game. BYU only scored 62 points against Wichita State — well off the Cougars’ average of 88.6 points per game, which ranks eighth in the nation — and on Saturday, the Shockers put on a similarly suffocating performance in a 70-61 victory over the Tennessee Volunteers, who had been averaging 76 points per game prior to tussling with Wichita State.
Additionally, the Shockers are equipped to handle a myriad of situations. Ron Baker missed half of last season and wasn’t fully healthy during the NCAA Tournament, so coach Gregg Marshall became adept at rotating players and playing to his team’s strengths throughout the season. Nine players — five guards, three forwards and one center — have played in every game in which they’ve been available (Darius Carter was unavailable against Tulsa) and each of those players has seen at least 13 minutes per game. This team is deep, versatile and experienced.
Finally, Wichita State’s style plays perfectly into college basketball’s new rule system, which criminalizes most hand and arm contact with a ball handler and thus leads to more fouls and free throw attempts over the course of a game. The Shockers’ depth makes fouls relatively inconsequential, and their ruthless efficiency at the line eviscerates any opponent’s effort to mount a comeback. In tonight’s game alone, the Shockers hit an astounding 25-of-27 free throws (they missed their last attempt) to keep the Crimson Tide at bay during the second half. The mesmerizing display was nothing new; not counting Evan Wessel (who plays the least out of the regulars and has only attempted five free throws all year), the eight regulars combine to average 75 percent from the charity stripe.
The best — or worst — thing about Wichita State’s conference schedule is that the Creighton Bluejays are nowhere to be found. The Shockers should be able to run roughshod over the reformed Missouri Valley Conference, which lost Creighton and brought in the Loyola Ramblers as a replacement. The Indiana State Sycamores were the only other league team to garner any semblance of “buzz” in the preseason, so anything more than two or three conference losses will be a huge disappointment.
Look for Wichita State to enter conference play undefeated at 13-0, and expect them to be chasing perfection for a majority of the season. Even if they stumble somewhere in conference play, it’s not a reach to believe that the Shockers could end the NCAA Tournament as the most perfect team in the entire nation, with a championship to prove that they deserve respect.
Paul Kilgas is a Big 10 Conference writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @PaulKilgas, “Like” him on Facebook, or add him to your network on Google.