Wichita State Should Make The NCAA Tournament, Right?

Posted by Chris Stone on February 16th, 2016

Even after Saturday’s home loss to Northern Iowa, it would be difficult to make a case that Wichita State is not one of the best 68 teams in college basketball. After a bounceback victory over New Mexico State on Monday evening, the Shockers are ranked 23rd on Team Rankings and 27th in the Sagarin Ratings. They appear even better using KenPom’s efficiency metrics, ranking a robust 13th out of 351 teams. The reason these systems like Wichita State so much is simple: its defense. Despite having one of the worst defensive free throw rates in the country, the Shockers still rank third in adjusted defensive efficiency according to KenPom. While Wichita State gives away too many points at the foul line, its defense is still effective because it excels at creating turnovers (23.5 percent turnover rate) and preventing second shot opportunities (opponents grab just 24.1 percent of their misses).

Gregg Marshall's team could be in trouble come Selection Sunday? (Credit: Fernando Salazar/The Wichita Eagle)

Gregg Marshall’s team may be in trouble come Selection Sunday. (Fernando Salazar/The Wichita Eagle)

The Shockers also have the star power of an experienced Top 25 program. Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker were role-playing freshmen when Wichita State went to the Final Four in 2013, and their growth as players helped the Shockers to an undefeated regular season and #1 seed in the 2014 NCAA Tournament before going to the Sweet Sixteen last year. VanVleet is the engine that makes the Shockers’ offense hum. He ranks fifth nationally in assist rate (41.9%) and works masterfully in pick-and-roll sets to help free up his teammates. Baker, a former walk-on, is an explosive outside shooter (37.3% career 3FG) who has enough size at 6’4″ and 210 pounds to give him a shot to play in the NBA.

Although Wichita State is now playing like an NCAA Tournament team — perhaps one that could make a deep run given the unpredictable nature of this season — the Shockers could find themselves on the wrong side of the bubble come Selection Sunday if they can’t win the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. Because of an injury to VanVleet, Wichita State has failed to put together much of a resume, having notched just one win against the RPI top 50 (Utah) and only two more versus the top 100 (both against an Evansville team currently in freefall). The Shockers won’t have any more opportunities to pick up top 50 wins this season in a down MVC, and their 98th-ranked strength of schedule (according to CBS Sports) is on the lower end of teams on the bubble. Here’s a peek at the Shockers’ resume in comparison with some of their bubble brethren.

Wichita State stacks up similarly to other teams on the bubble. (Source: CBS Sports)

Wichita State stacks up similarly to other teams on the bubble. (Source: CBS Sports/KenPom as of Feb. 14)

Whether Wichita State actually makes the field of 68 if they fail to win Arch Madness in a few weeks will come down to the subjective judgment of the Selection Committee. The Shockers are in an odd place because three of their five non-conference losses came without VanVleet in the lineup. The committee has previously stated that they’re aware of key injuries and take them into consideration when making decisions, but Jerry Palm of CBS Sports says that while injuries may affect seeding, they are less likely to affect selection because the committee cannot assume the team in question would have won those games. The Shockers also won’t be able to rely on their bounty of recent historical success to get them into the field. As Palm tweeted yesterday, “name recognition means nothing,” a fact best reinforced by the committee’s decision to leave Stephen Curry’s Davidson team out of the 2009 NCAA Tournament after the Wildcats had made a magical Elite Eight run the season before. For Wichita State, the surest way into the NCAA Tournament remains winning the MVC Tournament in St. Louis. If it doesn’t, eyes in Wichita will be even more firmly glued to television screens on Selection Sunday, as a team that has proven itself to be Tournament-caliber will see if its resume can say the same.

Chris Stone (136 Posts)

Chris Stone is a contributor to the Big 12 microsite. You can find him on Twitter @cstonehoops.

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