Don’t be shocked

Wichita State has what it takes to get the job done

Story by Nick Erickson, Managing Editor

Last year, the Wichita State Shockers took the world by storm and marched all the way to the Final Four as a No. 9 seed and even came close to knocking off eventual national champion Louisville in the national semifinal.

This year, nobody will be, well, shocked by the Shockers when March rolls around. They’re the first team since the 2007-2008 Memphis Tigers to start a season going 27-0. As a returning Final Four team, there undoubtedly good.

But here’s become the number one pressing question to all college basketball fans across the globe. Are they actually legitimate?

People automatically throw up an asterik because of the Shockers’ strength of schedule. While other top-five schools are pounding it out nightly in the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten and Pac 12, Wichita State has gone through what ESPN analyst Doug Gottleib has called the worst Missouri Valley Conference in five years.

The best win for the Shockers came back on Dec. 1 when they knocked off now No. 12 St. Louis on the road. They also have quality wins against Alabama as well as Tennessee.

I’ll admit, nothing really stands out about Wichita State. They’ve only played five teams rated inside the top-100 teams in the country, and the best statistical category they have is that they are 27th in the nation in rebounds per game. They don’t have a prolific national player of the year candidate, and they’re not terribly explosive on offense.

But when you fill out your brackets in March, don’t go trying to be bold and have your pool’s upset pick by knocking out the Shockers in the first couple of rounds. Why, you ask? Because, simply put, it won’t happen.

If Wichita State wins out, which looking at their remaining schedule, it looks highly unlikely that anybody poses a major threat to them, they should grab a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance.

Right now, Joe Luinardi of projects the Shockers to be the top seed in the Midwest region, meaning the Shockers would be able to play all of their games within 10 hours of their campus, a huge benefit to teams in the NCAA tournament.

Their opening round games would be in St. Louis, and as Luinardi has it right now, they would play either Arizona State or New Mexico in the second round, two very, very winnable games for Wichita State.

If the Shockers were to reach the Sweet 16, Luinardi projects they’d either play Texas or Michigan, two teams who have been as inconsistent as any in the country. If the Shockers were to play Michigan, I really like the Ron Baker against Nik Stauskas matchup we’d see, and with the way Stauskas is playing right now, I go advantage Baker of Wichita State.

The projected 2-seed in that side of the bracket is the Kansas Jayhawks, the Sunflower State’s most popular team. I think if that is the Elite Eight matchup, it could be the game of the year in college hoops given the stakes. Big brother against little brother. And, with the way Joel Embiid is ailing right now for the Jayhawks, you’ve got to give Wichita State a chance to make it back to a second-consecutive Final Four.

This team has proven all year long it can win games, and that’s the most important part about March basketball. This veteran group knows what it takes to go through the tournament, an advantage they have over many other teams that are being picked above them right now.

Maybe the Shockers won’t hoist the championship trophy to the sweet sounds of One Shining Moment this season, but don’t be surprised to see them back in the Final Four. I’m telling you, there is a reason this team is 27-0, and it’s time they at least got the respect they deserve.