No. 19 Wichita State went on the road to play No. 5 Cincinnati on Sunday. It was a fabulous game. The Shockers got a scare late from Cincinnati's pressure -- the Bearcats cut their deficit to two with 14 seconds left --  but Gregg Marshall's team got two over-the-top breakaway buckets on its final two possessions to lock up a 76-72 win

The victory marked the first time since 1964 that Wichita State won on the road against a team ranked in the AP top five. 


That stat, 54 years in the making, is the exact reason why it was best for Wichita State to cut its emotional ties with the Missouri Valley last year and make its move to the American Athletic Conference. The Valley is a great mid-major league with a lot of charm and still some historically good programs. Nevertheless, Wichita State had outgrown the MVC and everyone in that conference knew it. More specifically, the Valley was not and is not capable of presenting the Shockers with what they faced on Sunday: A top-five-ranked team.

Given how the selection committee mistreated Wichita State in recent years, changing conference allegiances was a no-brainer. Sunday's hyped matchup (the most anticipated tilt in the American so far this season) provided the type of environment, opponent and resume-boosting opportunity that Marshall has been starving for over the past half-decade. The selection committee in recent years has mis-seeded Wichita State due to the Valley bogging down the team's tournament profile; it proven's too slow to adapt to Wichita State rendering the RPI antediluvian. 

With the MVC past its prime of producing three, four, even five teams into the NCAA Tournament discussion, Wichita State no longer had opportunities, only landmines. 

Sunday was more than just a big game against a big opponent. No. 19 Wichita State vs. No. 5 Cincinnati was emblematic of Wichita State's advancement as a program, as a school. For the first time in ages, the Shockers played a must-see game with national implications in the month of February. 

The other reason Wichita State never had the chance for a victory on the road against a team ranked in the top five: Schools would not schedule the Shockers in such a game out of conference. I mean, they did for decades, sure. But that was before Wichita State became a national brand and Marshall altered the course of Shockers' athletic department. Right around 2010 and 2011, once Wichita State started winning 25 games minimum per season, scheduling top-75 programs became a hassle for Marshall. 

Now, in a better league, Marshall is getting his phone calls returned and lining up multiyear deals with teams from Major 7 conferences (ACC, American, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC). 

The American is not as good this season as it was expected to be, but it's still lining up to send at least three teams to the NCAA Tournament. Wichita State's no longer carrying a conference on its back. The Shockers haven't been as good as they were projected in the preseason, when the pollsters and the metrics had them in the top 10, but they're still unquestionably one of the 20 best teams in college basketball. Sunday proved that true. 

So this is what it looks like after you take a game on the road against the top team in the league and you end a 39-game home venue winning streak. 

Sunday's outcome in northern Kentucky did more than shine a light on Wichita State and the top of the American Athletic Conference. The result also brought doubt to the American's chase for a regular season conference champion. Had Cincinnati (23-4, 12-2) won on Sunday, the league race was basically a wrap. Instead, Wichita State's now a game back with an 11-3 American mark and sitting at 21-5 overall. 

(Houston, which might have punctured Temple's at-large hopes for good with an 80-69 win at Temple on Sunday, is also 11-3 in the league and sitting comfortably in line for a bid.)

The Bearcats and Shockers will meet again in the regular season finale in Wichita. If neither loses before that game, on March 4, a Shockers sweep would result in a tie atop the stands, with Wichita State taking the 1 seed in the league tournament due to winning both games vs. Bearcats.

Wichita State combined to go 76-7 vs. Missouri Valley teams the previous four seasons. That run of unprecedented dominance in the MVC elevated the Shockers and Marshall to a cherished place in the college basketball landscape. But no amount of winning could bring about the infrastructure and affiliation needed in order to elevate the program to the next level. The Shockers will lose more games but that's because they'll more consistently play better competition.

And as this season is showing, losing a few more games than usual and upgrading its schedule hasn't stopped the Shockers from strutting toward their seventh consecutive NCAA Tournament.