Wichita State in Great Position to Finish the Regular Season UnbeatenPosted by Adam Stillman on February 6th, 2014
The biggest hurdle has been cleared. An undefeated regular season for fourth-ranked Wichita State (24-0, 11-0 MVC) now looks like a strong possibility after the Shockers traveled Wednesday night to Terre Haute and left with a hard-fought 65-58 victory against Indiana State. The Shockers entered the game with a 38.5 percent chance of going unbeaten, according to Ken Pomeroy’s projections. Now, after completing the season sweep of the only other legitimate challenger in the Missouri Valley Conference, the Shockers’ chances at perfection jumped all the way up to 55.6 percent. A win at Northern Iowa on Saturday would boost that number to about 68 percent. (Ed. note: Pomeroy noted on Twitter last night that continuing the run to 34-0 through Arch Madness would roughly approximate to a 34 percent chance as of today.)
The Shockers now have a reasonable chance to become the first team in 23 seasons to head into the NCAA Tournament without a loss on the resume. Defending national champion UNLV finished the regular season at 30-0 before falling to Duke in the 1991 Final Four. The 2004 Saint Joseph’s squad, led by Jameer Nelson, finished regular season play at 27-0 before falling in the first round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament. And recall Murray State started out 23-0 just two years ago before falling at home to Tennessee State in mid-February. So if we’re talking regular season here, the Shockers are chasing a feat that hasn’t been accomplished in a decade. And what an accomplishment it would be.
The numbers appear to stack up in Wichita State’s favor the rest of the way. Seven regular season games remain on the docket. The toughest will be Saturday’s contest at Northern Iowa, a squad with a record under .500 both overall and in the MVC but still a proven threat at home. Pomeroy gives Wichita State an 80 percent chance of beating the Panthers. For the Shockers’ six ensuing contests, the odds are all in the 90-percent range. The final stretch — vs. Southern Illinois (96 percent), at Evansville (92 percent), at Loyola-Chicago (92 percent), vs. Drake (97 percent), at Bradley (92 percent) and vs. Missouri State (96 percent) — is far from daunting.
How tough is this Wichita State team? The Shockers have a target painted on their backs the size of an elephant right now. They clearly get every team’s best shot. And Wednesday’s game at Indiana State was tabbed by many pundits as the one where Gregg Marshall’s team would finally fall from the ranks of the unbeaten (along with Syracuse). That wasn’t going to happen. Not even after a weather delay forced Wichita State to travel to Terre Haute that morning. The game was close throughout, but the Shockers felt in charge almost the whole time. Tekele Coton hit a three just 23 seconds into the contest and led the game until Manny Arop’s jumper at the start of the second half gave Indiana State its first and only lead of the contest. Cleanthony Early’s jumper with 16:58 to play gave the Shockers the lead for good, and they held off a late Sycamores’ charge to remain unbeaten.
Let’s face it. Wichita State is better than last year’s team that made the Final Four and gave eventual champion Louisville its toughest test of the entire NCAA Tournament. It says here that the Shockers are going to finish the regular season undefeated. Is a #1 seed in order as well? I say yes. The Shockers currently sit at #6 in the RPI and #9 in Pomeroy’s rankings, and there’s no way an undefeated team doesn’t get a top seed for March Madness. In a few weeks time, Saint Joseph’s is going to fall from its perch as the last team to finish the regular season undefeated. UNLV’s mark might be next. Then the real fun begins. Is there any way Wichita State can supplant 1976 Indiana, the last college basketball team to completely run the table from start to finish?
The chase for regular season perfection isn’t quite over. But it might as well be after Wednesday. The real question is whether this team has the chops to really do something special. Only time will tell.