The Wichita State Shockers followed up a season in which they — so sorry about this — shocked the world by running themselves into a Final Four appearance by going undefeated in the 2014 regular season. A nice, shiny record of 31-0 makes them the first team in a decade to go undefeated over the course of the regular season. There is no doubt that following the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, regardless of the outcome, the Shockers will be on their way to the NCAA Tournament. By virtue of their flawless regular season, they’ve earned the right to compete in the Big Dance. But the questions on the lips of many right now are will they be a No. 1 seed? If they are, do they deserve to be? Is Wichita State, despite a tremendous regular season, little more than smoke and mirrors or are they a legitimate title contender?
The answers to any of those questions are far from easy. Certainly, their run to the Final Four last season would argue for their inclusion on a list of possible title contenders. On the other side of the coin, however, one could argue that their run to the Final Four was made possible by playing the likes of Pittsburgh, Gonzaga, La Salle, and Ohio State — none of which exactly lit up the NCAA last season. And though Ohio State — Wichita State’s opponent in the Elite Eight — was the No. 2 seed in the West Region, it’s worth noting that they finished their regular season conference schedule a barely above average 9-8. And though the Shockers managed to put a scare into eventual champion Louisville in the Final Four, they wound up losing.
Skeptics can take all of that and make a compelling case that Wichita State, for as fine of a season as they had in 2013, had a healthy dose of luck and were able to sneak up on a lot of people in putting that season and their run to the Final Four together. Not to mention, the West Region was the Tournament’s weakest region by far.
This is not to suggest that Wichita State is not a good basketball team; they’re actually a very good basketball team. But this is to suggest — blasphemously to some most likely — that their 31-0 record might be a little bit overblown, and perhaps they’re not, as some have projected, actually worthy of the No. 1 overall seed heading into the tournament.
Yes, the Shockers beat all comers this season. But the question is — who were those comers? If you look up and down their schedule this season, you will see a very distinct lack of quality opponents. It’s not entirely their fault; they play in a weak conference. But the Shockers are a good team, and when one win or loss can determine your tournament fate, it’s not all that surprising that higher profile teams avoided them like the plague. Teams would be foolish to schedule a game that they know they could possibly lose. But the fact remains that Wichita State, in compiling a 31-0 mark, feasted on the dregs of college basketball in the Missouri Valley Conference — teams like Drake, Loyola, Evansville, Bradley, and Southern Illinois — that likely have no shot to get into the tournament.
There is no hiding the fact that Wichita State, through no fault of their own, had a strength of schedule outside of the top-100. Yes, they took care of their business, but they did not play anybody within the Top-25. They didn’t really play anybody. So it’s not possible to really gauge how they would fare against some of the NCAA heavyweights.
The Shockers also put a fairly small lineup on the court. They’re fast and they have the ability to shoot the lights out. But against a taller, more physical team — say an Arizona, Virginia or Louisville — the Shockers might find themselves getting knocked around and beaten soundly on the boards. And if one of their shooters has an off night, it could be all over for Wichita State before it ever begins.
It’s entirely likely that based on their outstanding regular season, Wichita State will be rewarded with a No. 1 seed. But they won’t be able to sneak up on people this year, and as great as their season was, it likely won’t translate into a second Final Four appearance, much less a national championship.