Wichita State makes history, moves to 34-0 with MVC tournament title
The Shockers will now likely get a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament on Selection Sunday.
ST. LOUIS -- After he had coached a game following a rocky night of sleep during which he woke-up worried about how to guard Indiana State's high pick-and-roll, Gregg Marshall hugged his wife, held a trophy, met with the media and talked about history.
"This team is in the history books," Marshall said plainly.
And he's right.
No matter what happens next, Wichita State will forever be listed on television graphics each time another men's college basketball team approaches the NCAA Tournament with a perfect record. That's what Sunday's 83-69 win over Indiana State in the title game of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament cemented. This Shockers team that has consistently mowed down opponents and climbed up the polls is now in the history books.
So Marshall talked about that.
He seemed genuinely moved by the achievement.
Then, when we had run out of questions and he'd run out of answers, a MVC volunteer named Andy Sala walked over and got Marshall's attention. The ladder was already positioned under the goal. The scissors were waiting for the coach.
"You wanna get some net?" Sala asked.
"Yeah," Marshall answered. "Let's get some net."
A week from tonight, barring a huge surprise, CBS Sports' Greg Gumbel will announce to the world that Wichita State, from the Missouri Valley Conference, is a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. It no longer matters what you think about the Shockers or their strength of schedule or how they'd do if they played in the Big 12. All that matters is that they're 34-0 with a road win over the Atlantic 10's outright champion (Saint Louis) and a home win over a Tennessee team that beat the ACC's outright champion (Virginia) by 35 points, and that's going to be good enough to secure a No. 1 seed.
So prepare yourself.
It's absolutely going to happen.
Then, of course, some idiot will immediately predict that the Shockers will be the first-ever No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed even though they've never lost to an opponent like that (or any opponent at all), and it won't matter that they're the nation's only defeat-less team and one of just five with zero losses outside of the top 50 of the RPI. Folks will forget all that. And they'll forget that Wisconsin lost to Northwestern, and that Wichita State is 19-0 against opponents with a better RPI than Northwestern. And they'll forget that Duke lost to Notre Dame, and that Wichita State is 16-0 against opponents with a better RPI than Notre Dame. And they'll forget that Michigan lost to Charlotte, and that Wichita State is 19-0 against teams with a better RPI than Charlotte. And they'll forget that Syracuse lost to Boston College, and that Wichita State is 22-0 against teams with a better RPI than Boston College.
Put another way, we've been playing for nearly four months now, and Wichita State is just about the only team in the country that has shown it's capable of beating bad teams without exception. And yet people are oddly anxious to pick against them, data be damned.
"It's funny for us," said Wichita State point guard Fred VanVleet, who is a finalist for the Naismith Trophy. "We don't worry about that stuff. We just stay locked-in."
As I've written and said many times, I'm not here to convince you that Wichita State is the nation's best team or even one of the nation's top four teams. I think the Shockers are really good, but I realize their No. 2 ranking is debatable. So we can debate that, if you want, some other time. I'm open to that, honestly. But what I'm not open to is the idea that they don't "deserve" a No. 1 seed even though they scheduled as aggressively as possible and won every single game they played, because to deny Wichita State a No. 1 seed would essentially be to reward the power-conference schools that refuse to schedule the Shockers, and I just believe that's inherently unfair. Beyond that, there's this: Wichita State is ranked fourth at KenPom, and almost nobody would be more than a one-possession favorite over the Shockers on a neutral court, according to a Las Vegas bookmaker I spoke with last week.
I don't know.
But neither do you.
And, either way, they're at least clearly comparable. To suggest otherwise is to reject algorithms historically great at determining such things. And to suggest otherwise is to ignore Rick Pitino, whose Cardinals nearly lost to Wichita State in last year's Final Four.
"Everybody's missing the boat on Wichita," Pitino told reporters last week.
Wichita State assistant Steve Forbes agrees.
Forbes, it should be noted, worked for Bruce Pearl at Tennessee, point being that he's seen power-conference basketball up close. He was on staff when the Vols were ranked No. 1 in the country. He coached against Billy Donovan's national championship teams at Florida, and against John Calipari's top-ranked teams at both Memphis and Kentucky. So Forbes knows what power-conference greatness looks like. With that in mind, I asked a very simple question: Is this Wichita State team on that level?
"There's no question," Forbes said. "We have the look of a BCS-level team ... and our team is better than any team I've ever coached, to be honest. This team is coming off of a Final Four, and now they're backing it up with a 34-0 record? I don't know how you could doubt that."
I don't either.
But the doubters exist.
And they're really, really loud.
The good news, of course, is that this isn't college football -- a sport where we're left to wonder forever if a certain Utah team or Boise State team could've really won a national championship. In this sport, everybody gets a chance. So, a week from tonight, a bracket will be unveiled, and Wichita State will be in it, and then, a few days after that, the Shockers will begin a stretch during which they'll prove a lot of people right and a lot of people wrong.
Was the 34-0 start a sign of greatness?
Or was it just a schedule-induced gaudy number?
I know what I think and you know what you think, and, if we're thinking different things, there's no way either of us is changing the other's mind. Everybody is dug in, one way or another, on these Shockers, and their story will be the story of this NCAA Tournament.
Will they make the Final Four?
Or will they lose in the Round of 32?
Again, who knows?
But know this: they're still a long way from satisfied.
"I want to win the whole NCAA Tournament," Marshall said. "We're gonna give it a shot."
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