At 30-0, the Wichita State Shockers have done everything necessary to be the top overall seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament. Whether the Shockers will get that recognition is unknown, of course, and may well be out of their hands. If the Florida Gators win out, the Gators, not the Shockers, will probably get the top overall seed. After all, Florida is 26-2 and 15-0 in the SEC (a tougher conference than the Missouri Valley Conference, though, not as tough as it usually is). But the fact is, the Gators do have two losses.
Wichita State has none and as its game Tuesday night at Bradley went along, the Shockers weren’t really threatened. Sure, the Braves (12-18, 7-10) cut a 20-point lead almost down to single-digits late, but Wichita State (30-0, 17-0) clamped down in the final four minutes and pulled away. The Shockers have faced down every challenge in the Valley, including rallying from big deficits (at Missouri State and vs. Evansville) and twice taking care of the only perceived real threat in their conference, the Indiana State Sycamores.
Naysayers will point to Wichita State’s strength of schedule as the reason why they ultimately won’t get the top overall seed, but at some point, you can no longer argue with a team that wins every game it plays. This team, while maybe not having the same star power, is far better overall than the St. Joseph’s team of 2003-04 back that went through the regular season 27-0, but lost in the Atlantic-10 tournament. But even that team eventually reached a regional final, falling to Oklahoma State. And the teams they beat along the way in that year’s NCAA tournament were no collection of blue bloods — Wake Forest, Liberty and Texas Tech.
This Wichita State team is far better set up for a long run than that St. Joe’s team was, especially given the fact the Shockers have already done it. Don’t forget it was this Wichita State team that made the Final Four last year and had eventual national champions Louisville on the ropes in the second half. Why would anything in front of them get them worried? Four players — Cleanthony Early, Fred VanVleet, Tekele Cotton and Ron Baker — all scored in double figures in Tuesday’s 69-49 win. The Shockers get scoring, rebounding and defense from everywhere. They are tournament tested and remember, this is one of only two teams in the country to defeat 10th-ranked Saint Louis (25-2, 12-0 A-10).
Wichita State has also beaten BYU (20-10, 12-5 WCC), a Tennessee team that sits 17-11, 7-7 in the SEC, and also beat current No. 12 Virginia by 35 points earlier this season, as well as Davidson, which is 13-1 in the Southern Conference. Florida may have better wins, but the Gators’ two losses (to Wisconsin and Connecticut) are a sticking point now. The Gators still have to host Kentucky, then compete in the SEC tournament. Any loss along the way and there really would be no argument over Wichita State being the top overall seed.
But if the Shockers complete a 34-0 run as Missouri Valley Conference tournament champions, it really shouldn’t matter what Florida does. The Shockers will have earned their top seed and there will be no reason to think Wichita State couldn’t win six more games in the Big Dance to cut down the nets as national champions. Yes, Wichita State would be the most unlikely team to go 40-0, but at some point, it’s time to stop arguing or poking holes at the Shockers and enjoy what they are doing.