How Shocking Would a Perfect Wichita State Regular Season Be?Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 18th, 2013
Last March, they were college basketball’s flavor of the month. This season, the Wichita State Shockers may be spending more than just a few weeks as the taste of the town. With Tuesday night’s 72-67 victory over Alabama now in the books, there’s nothing but clear skies and smooth sailing ahead for Gregg Marshall’s team. Old MVC foil Creighton is now competing in the Big East, and with a concluding schedule that features just one current top-100 team, the prospects of a WSU perfect regular season may have just bounded over that line separating dreams from reality. The Shockers should be favorites, and usually heavy ones, in every one of its contests from here on out. But all that isn’t to say that Wichita State is likely to complete this monumental task. No historian is needed to examine the case of 2012 Murray State; those Racers could tell you how owning a loss-column “0” makes February wins that much more of a chore. Opposing teams play harder, their fans cheer louder, and all the while, the national spotlight grows ever brighter. So, no the job won’t be easy. But pair a tough, talented Shockers team with that manageable remaining schedule, and you at least give the laser-focused Marshall a shot at steering them through unblemished.
If Wichita State ends up being the last team chasing perfection, and Jameer Nelson and his 2004 St. Joe’s team also happens to take their cues from the 1972 Miami Dolphins, then here are the three dates that appear most primed for a Hawks’ champagne party.
January 11 at Missouri State
The Bears failed to show off on Tuesday night, losing 90-60 at Louisville, but they won’t be the last team this season to depart the Yum! Center humbled. Paul Lusk’s team is still 8-2 on the year, and with five eminently winnable games of their own before January 11, they could easily enter this Saturday night date with the Shockers laced with momentum. The Bears were picked to finish fourth in the MVC preseason poll and have done little wrong to this point, but this would stand as a significantly bigger upset than the two games listed below.
February 5 at Indiana State
The lone top-100 team remaining on the Shockers’ schedule, Indiana State looms as the most significant MVC test for Wichita State. The two teams will have already met once in advance of this tussle in Terre Haute (in Wichita on January 18), although the added familiarity shouldn’t mean too much for a pair of squads that already know each other quite well. The 7-2 Sycamores are two points from being perfect this season (both Belmont and Tulsa nipped them by a single point), and also own an impressive win over Notre Dame at the Joyce Center. They’ve won with solid play on both ends of the floor, but have also done it in spite of a below-average effort on the glass: something that will surely be a point of concern against the very physical Shockers. But rebounding worries and all, this still feels like the most likely ending spot for Wichita State’s perfection. Not only are the Sycamores the best team left on the schedule, but it’s just too perfect a setup for one of college basketball’s most under-the-radar stars (Sycamore point guard Jake Odum) to get a deserved spin under the national spotlight before his eligibility expires.
February 8 at Northern Iowa
Northern Iowa could easily wind up the second best team in the MVC this season. Their first 10 games have been no model of consistency, but the good has been very good: The Panthers own a comfortable win over VCU, and took Iowa State to overtime before falling. Of course, the program has been known to enjoy a good upset before, and the McLeod Center offers one of the more underrated homecourt advantages in all of college basketball. What’s more, Wichita State will be coming off that battle against Indiana State three nights prior. Even if they gut out of there with a win — perhaps especially if they gut out a win – the Shockers could easily enter Cedar Falls mentally unprepared for another grind. Getting these two road games in a back-to-back is the hardest week this year’s MVC could offer Marshall’s team.
At the very least, the Shockers are college basketball’s best bet at a perfect regular season As of today, Ken Pomeroy gives the squad a 7.2 percent chance of running the table. By comparison, the teams with the next best odds are Ohio State and Arizona at a measly 0.4 percent. But as we peek ahead at potential stumbling blocks for Wichita’s team, just know that Gregg Marshall will have his team doing nothing of the sort. Every coach prescribes to the “one game at a time” mantra, but few live it out as voraciously as Marshall does. His passionate, meticulous approach will give his squad a great opportunity to stay the course — no matter how loud the surrounding buzz gets. Good thing, too. It might be just about to get real loud again in Wichita.