In the end, I think, it will be a non-issue. Because ultimately, I believe, Wichita State will win the Missouri Valley Conference tournament and secure the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
But what if the Shockers ... don’t?
What if they slip?
Or what if a capable Illinois State team beats them in St. Louis?
What would the NCAA Tournament selection committee do with Gregg Marshall’s team then? What should it do then? That’s what this column is about. And I guess I’ll start by stating my opinion before explaining it, and my opinion is this: Playing an NCAA Tournament without a Wichita State team that could be (in this hypothetical situation) 29-5 with only two losses coming in the 12 weeks leading up to Selection Sunday would be ridiculous and fundamentally unfair.
That’s the simplest way to put it.
And, please, don’t talk to me about Wichita State’s lack of so-called quality wins -- because that’s exactly what I’m talking about. Yes, I know, the Shockers have just one top-50 RPI win, and that’s obviously less than ideal. But they’ve only had five opportunities to land top-50 RPI wins, and three of those opportunities came before some folks even started Christmas shopping -- not to mention while Wichita State was still figuring out what it was after losing three starters from last season’s team that won 29 games and beat Vanderbilt and Arizona in the NCAA Tournament.
Again, Wichita State lost three starters from last season’s team:
Two of those players were three-year starters who are now in the NBA. So should it really be surprising that the Shockers didn’t look in November like they look today? They lost two games to projected NCAA Tournament teams (Louisville, Michigan State) three months ago with a reshaped roster, and that’s the only thing between them and a résumé that would have Wichita State safely in the field of 68 regardless of how things go at Arch Madness. In other words, some of the world’s best bracketologists, including CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm, are prepared to label Wichita State unworthy if Wichita State doesn’t secure the MVC’s automatic bid -- largely because of the outcomes of games played during Thanksgiving weekend.
With all due respect, that’s silly.
Everybody can acknowledge Oklahoma State isn’t the same team now that it was when the Cowboys started 0-6 in the Big 12. And everybody can admit Indiana isn’t the same team now that it was when the Hoosiers began the season 8-1 with victories over Kansas and North Carolina.
Some teams get better with time.
Others get worse.
That’s true in all sports over the course of a long season. And yet in college basketball, a sport that fancies itself as inclusive, the system only works one way for schools outside the power structure. Those types of schools, like Wichita State, are allowed to spend January and February squandering good bodies of work created in November and December. But the selection committee’s guidelines make it difficult, bordering on impossible, for schools outside the power structure to improve damaged bodies of work in January and February even if the smart computers recognize and reflect an increase in quality.
Speaking of, Wichita State is 12th in KenPom.
And 15th in Sagarin.
That doesn’t necessarily mean they would beat all other bubble teams. But what it does mean is that they would be obvious favorites on a neutral court over all other bubble teams. And what it also means is that KenPom sees them as better than all but three Big 12 schools and three ACC schools, and better than all but two SEC schools -- plus better than every Big Ten team except Purdue, every Big East team except Villanova and every Pac-12 team period. And yet Wichita State would be left out of the NCAA Tournament with a 26-4 record featuring one top-50 RPI win and zero sub-50 losses, according to some, if the NCAA Tournament started today. Meantime, TCU, also according to some, would be in with a 17-11 record featuring two top-50 RPI wins and two sub-50 losses.
It’s presumably because TCU has one more top-50 win, and two more top-100 wins, than Wichita State. But shouldn’t it matter that TCU has had more than twice as many opportunities than Wichita State to record top-100 wins based on league affiliation alone?
I think it should.
TCU’s Big 12 schedule has so far provided the Horned Frogs with 10 chances to record top-100 wins. They’re 2-8 in those games. Meantime, Wichita State’s MVC schedule has so far provided the Shockers with two chances to record top-100 wins. They’re 1-1 in those games. So if you think TCU is better, or even more deserving, than Wichita State, what you’re saying is that you think TCU would be better than Wichita State, or at least as good as Wichita State, against Wichita State’s league schedule. And what you’re also saying is that Wichita State wouldn’t be better than TCU, or even as good as TCU, against TCU’s league schedule.
Does anybody really believe those things?
In fairness, I do think TCU -- which I like and would love to see in the NCAA Tournament, but that’s not the point of this column -- would probably be 15-1 against Wichita State’s league schedule with a home win over Illinois State and a road loss to Illinois State -- just like the Shockers. But I would bet everything I own, and some things I don’t, that the Shockers would be better than 2-8 in games against Big 12 schools with top-100 RPIs, and every reputable computer agrees. And if you also agree but still insist TCU is more deserving of an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament than Wichita State, then your argument is rooted in a slanted approach that makes conference affiliation based on the quality of football programs and television markets the most important factor when it comes to securing postseason basketball opportunities.
That’s lousy and unfair.
Bottom line, Wichita State has invested tens of millions of dollars in its basketball program, hired and kept a possible future Hall of Fame coach, given him all of the resources necessary to recruit and win at a unique level, and he’s absolutely crushing it -- proof being five straight NCAA Tournament appearances that include a trip to the 2013 Final Four. That the rest of the MVC (outside of Illinois State) stinks this season and in turn provides almost no opportunities to record top-100 wins that look nice on a computer screen in a hotel conference room in Indianapolis shouldn’t be the thing that determines Wichita State’s NCAA Tournament fate.
That’s what I think.
Either way, in a perfect world, the Shockers will win the MVC tournament and render this entire debate moot. But if the world were perfect, or at least fair, such wouldn’t even be required.