Wichita State’s Pursuit of Perfection Continues Friday in Arch MadnessPosted by Adam Stillman on March 6th, 2014
The Wichita State Shockers are looking to make some more history. After finishing the regular season undefeated at 31-0, becoming the first team to accomplish the feat since Saint Joseph’s in 2004, the Shockers look to become the first team to enter the NCAA Tournament unbeaten since UNLV pulled off the trick in 1991. Will Wichita State succeed in its pursuit of perfection? Based on its dominance of Missouri Valley Conference foes this season, you’d have to think the odds are in the Shockers’ favor to run through Arch Madness. Only three league opponents stayed within single figures of Wichita State this season, and just one — Missouri State — played them within six points. That 72-69 overtime win came on January 11 after the Shockers had rallied from 19 points down with 11:48 left in the game. Otherwise it’s been mostly an exercise in cruise control for Gregg Marshall’s team. Those numbers don’t really inspire much confidence for a shocking winner this weekend. In fact, Ken Pomeroy gives Wichita State a 78 percent chance to earn the league’s automatic bid.
Let’s take a look at the Shockers’ likely path in the MVC Tournament. First up will be the winner of the #8/#9 game between Drake and Evansville, which tips off this evening. In the four games Wichita State played against the two opponents this season, the Shockers won by an average of 19 points with the closest an 81-67 victory against the Aces on February 1. There’s virtually no way that Wichita State drops its quarterfinal game, as KenPom gives the Shockers a 95.2 percent chance of advancing to the semifinals on Saturday. That’s where Wichita State would meet either Missouri State or Illinois State, depending on Friday’s result between the two. Sure, the former gave the Shockers quite a scare two months ago before capitulating in overtime, but Wichita State rolled through the Bears in the return game last Saturday, winning by 23 points in the regular season clincher. The Shockers beat Illinois State by an average of 17 points in their two meetings this season as well. KenPom gives Wichita State an 87.4 percent chance to advance to the title game here.
Waiting on Sunday afternoon would likely be either Indiana State or Northern Iowa. The second-seeded Sycamores and third-seeded Panthers should meet in the other semifinal game, with either capable of posing a legitimate threat to the Shockers’ perfect season. KenPom actually gives Northern Iowa a better chance to advance to the final, reaching the championship game in 41.2 percent of his projections. Indiana State, on the other hand, gets there 37.7 percent of the time. Wichita State had a tougher time with Northern Iowa than Indiana State this season, winning by an average of 11.5 and 13.5 points, respectively. The two teams are also going in different directions at the moment, as the Panthers have won three straight games entering the tourney while the Sycamores have dropped their last three. KenPom gives Northern Iowa an 8.1 percent chance at stealing the bid in this situation, while the odds drop to 6.4 percent for Indiana State. The two split their season series this year, with each team winning on the road.
Would the pressure of a championship game — on top of the pressure of the final step of an unbeaten pre-NCAA Tournament season — be enough for Wichita State to drop a game to a desperate team still fighting for an NCAA Tournament bid? I definitely think it’s a game that could go down to the wire, and I’m excited to be there Sunday at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis for the final. But the truth is that Wichita State is an elite team. You can argue about their relatively weak strength of schedule, which is a legitimate beef, all you want; but to go through an entire regular season undefeated is an accomplishment worth celebrating. Just take a look at which team dropped Syracuse from the ranks of the unbeaten just a couple weeks ago — a horrible Boston College squad. There’s something to be said to playing angry every night out, taking on all challengers as the hunted, and still coming out unscathed. Every time the Shockers hit the road for an MVC game, they represented the opposing team’s Super Bowl. And yet Wichita State is still perfect.
The Shockers rank 13th in offensive efficiency, ninth in defensive efficiency, and sixth overall in KenPom’s national ratings. They also have a couple legitimate NBA prospects in Cleanthony Early and Ron Baker. Heck, even Fred Van Vleet could find himself there someday. There’s no doubt that Wichita State is a national title contender, but the detractors won’t be satisfied until the Shockers go on a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. Forget them this weekend; we’re witnessing one of the best college basketball stories in years.
Wichita State is three games from history. That’s it, just 120 minutes from a remarkable 34-0 campaign. A #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament would certainly follow. Can the Shockers enter the Big Dance undefeated? Certainly. Will they? I say yes, they will.