Wichita State Making Another Run at the Final Four Not Seem So SurprisingPosted by Adam Stillman on December 4th, 2013
Wichita State shocked the nation last March, as Gregg Marshall and the ninth-seeded Shockers stormed their way to the Final Four out of the West Region before finally capitulating to eventual national champion Louisville. Well, Wichita State isn’t flying under anybody’s radar this season. The Shockers entered the 2013-14 campaign ranked #16 in both the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches polls. They now sit at #11 and #10 respectively in those rankings after an 8-0 start that includes a CBE Hall of Fame Classic title and a strong road win at Saint Louis. As of Tuesday night, Wichita State boasts a #9 ranking in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, thanks to a 22nd-ranked offense (113.8 points per 100 possessions) and a 16th-ranked defense (allowing just 93 points per 100 possessions).
Wichita State is undoubtedly the favorite in the Missouri Valley Conference this season, and let’s be honest, it won’t need to worry about sitting on the at-large bubble come Selection Sunday. But without a plethora of additional marquee non-conference match-ups on the docket, it’s best for the Shockers to take care of business with an eye on a higher seed this March. The darlings from the MVC have acquitted themselves well so far, as Marshall’s group has a pair of nice victories it will be able to hang its hat on regardless of what happens in conference play.
The victory against SLU really sticks out. The Billikens are #29 in KenPom’s rankings, including fifth in defensive efficiency (90.6). SLU was a #4 seed in last season’s NCAA Tournament and returned four starters — including leading scorer Dwayne Evans — from the 28-7 team that won the Atlantic 10 regular season and tournament titles. SLU lost just twice at Chaifetz Arena last season, yet the Shockers were able to come away with a meaningful road win. The win against BYU isn’t too shabby either. The Cougars already own wins against Stanford and Texas (and a close loss to #21 Iowa State), and while certainly not a resume-making win for the Shockers, it’s another solid victory to have in their back pocket. Wichita State’s other six victories, however, don’t move the needle. The Shockers have wins against Division II Emporia State, Western Kentucky, William & Mary, Tennessee State, Tulsa and DePaul in the CBE semifinals. Those wins won’t really mean all that much in the long run, but it’s good that the Shockers avoided any bad losses, especially true with a stark lack of potential resume-building wins left on the schedule.
A match-up against Tennessee on December 14 looked like a marquee game in the preseason as the Volunteers were the first team listed in the “Others Receiving Votes” category in the AP poll. But after losses to Xavier and UTEP, the Volunteers are not guaranteed to remain a quality victory at this point. Alabama is a fringe-bubble team out of the SEC and Davidson is certainly nowhere near the level we’ve come to expect from the Wildcats in the last half-decade or so. That about does it for the non-league slate for the Shockers. As for the MVC schedule, the league lost some of its luster when Creighton bolted for the new Big East, leaving Indiana State as the only other league opponent that’s likely to challenge for an NCAA Tournament bid.
The reality is that Wichita State will be in the NCAA Tournament; now the discussion turns to the ceiling for the Shockers. Just how high of a seed can they get? What about a 2012-13 Gonzaga-type season that results in a #1 seed? That’s fairly unlikely to happen unless Wichita State manages to run the table with an undefeated regular season. It’s likely the team won’t have a win against another Top 25 team this season, whereas Gonzaga had three such match-ups last year. The Shockers will instead have a bunch of games against fringe bubble teams, which certainly will hurt them when comparing resumes with other potential #1 seeds such as Duke, Kansas, Michigan State, and the rest. Still, an undefeated regular season is no joke no matter where you play, and based on its schedule, the possibility of such a thing isn’t that far-fetched. According to KenPom’s current projections, the Shockers will be favored in every one of its remaining games the rest of the season. Now, favored on paper and actually pulling off the feat are two entirely different things. Tennessee and Alabama will pose threats, and a Creighton-less MVC will serve as its usual gauntlet for Wichita State to run through, so it seems likely that the Shockers will drop at least a game or two in league play. A two- or three-loss regular season could put Wichita State anywhere from the #2 to #4 seed range come March, which is probably the best bet for the Shockers as of now.
That’s what happens when you make a run to the Final Four. The national perception of your team changes. And right now, the Shockers are getting love all over the place. It certainly doesn’t hurt when you have stars like Ron Baker (16.1 PPG), Cleanthony Early (14.1 PPG, 6.8 RPG), Fred VanVleet (12.6 PPG, 5.5 APG) and Tekele Cotton (10.4 PPG) returning from that Final Four squad. Wichita State will be dancing. Maybe this time they’ll have a seed that will make another run at the Final Four seem not so surprising.