Preseason Questions: When Will Wichita State’s Regular Season Streak End?

Posted by Bennet Hayes on November 14th, 2014

On March 2, 2013, Wichita State and Creighton played a game initially notable for the fact that it would be the Jays’ final regular season game in the Missouri Valley Conference. Somewhere in the midst of Creighton rolling to a 12-point victory in Omaha, the contest became less about the Valley swan song and more about Doug McDermott, who poured in 41 points on 15-of-18 field goal shooting. At the time, it appeared to be a day to quickly forget for Gregg Marshall’s Shockers, and forget they did: Wichita State was playing in the Final Four just five weeks later. Fast-forward from that point more than 20 months, though, and that regular season finale has developed a new reason for recall – it’s the last regular season game Wichita State has lost. The Shockers will be sporting a 31-game regular season winning streak when they take to the Roundhouse floor tonight, where New Mexico State will be the latest opponent to have a crack at snapping the streak. Gregg Marshall’s team will face challenges this season that never afflicted last year’s team, but it returns a nucleus capable of maintaining an established lofty standard. So we ask: How good can these Shockers be, and exactly when will the regular season streak end?

How Long Can Ron Baker And Company Keep Winning?

How Long Can Ron Baker And The Shockers Keep Winning?

Wichita State will miss Cleanthony Early. List as many reasons as you want for the magical run of a season ago – Gregg Marshall’s coaching; utterly committed team defense; grinding offensive execution – but the Shockers also had the luxury of Early, a player with the athletic tools to dominate any game if needed. In 2013, Early’s 39-point explosion against Southern Illinois saved the Shockers from a near-upset at home. Last year at Indiana State, he scored 15 of his game-high 19 points in the second half to stave off the Shockers’ primary Valley challenger. And in that lone, season-ending loss of 2014, it was Early who matched Kentucky’s NBA talent shot-for-shot down the stretch, keeping the Shockers afloat. The current New York Knicks forward may not have been the most consistent Shocker during his two years in Wichita, but his athleticism and scoring ability made him a dynamic dimension that few college basketball teams – power conference or not – could lay claim to. Ron Baker, Fred VanVleet and Tekele Cotton will deservedly reel in plenty of acclaim this season, but for the myriad talents of that trio, none possess the game-breaking abilities of Early. This team will need to find its way without a take-over scorer.

The Shockers will also be a marked team this season. It won’t be a new experience for the returnees, of course, but it wasn’t until late January and February a season ago that Shocker paranoia translated into opponents consistently delivering their best shots. Opponents’ calendars were undoubtedly circled Wichita State as soon as their schedules were released. Marshall was masterful at maintaining his team’s focus and motivation at the peak of the media firestorm last winter, but only after a relatively anonymous cruise through the non-conference season. No such ride exists for Wichita State this year. There are plenty of teams on the pre-conference slate with the talent to take down the Shockers, and all should be amply motivated by the opportunity to tackle one of college basketball’s trendiest teams.

So where will this regular season winning streak find its end? The non-conference slate is littered with match-ups in which the Shockers should be small favorites. KenPom’s model currently lists the Shockers as a favorite in every game they will play this season, but seven of their first eight games against D-I opponents come against teams in Pomeroy’s preseason top 100. New Mexico State and Tulsa (#79 and #45, respectively) are both pesky early-season home games, but the Shockers should pass those tests. Playing Memphis at a neutral site (Sioux Falls, South Dakota on November 18) amounts to a stiffer challenge, but we don’t see the streak ending until the season’s second month. On December 3, Wichita State will travel to the Huntsman Center to take on Utah in a game that looms as possibly their toughest of the entire season. It’s an extremely winnable game for Marshall’s bunch (they could still be favored), but we like the resurgent Utes to end the winning streak at 35.

Beyond the visit to Utah, there will be plenty of other tests for Wichita State, both outside and within the Missouri Valley Conference. Replicating the perfection of last season is more unlikely than the initial production of it, but as fun as the streak has been, it’s now beside the larger point. Marshall has long had his players believing in their abilities, and he now has plenty of outsiders sharing their faith. Wichita State was a national title contender at 35-0 last March. This November, even at 0-0, the Shockers are again threats to win it all.

BHayes (244 Posts)

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