During the 2013 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, the Wichita State Shockers were the feel good Cinderella story. They marched through schools like Pittsburgh, Gonzaga, LaSalle, and Ohio State are their way to the Final Four. They lost to the eventual champions, the Louisville Cardinals by just 4 points in the semi-finals. It was quite the run, and it made the Shockers the underdog darlings of the the tournament.
This season, Wichita State is proving it was no fluke. The Shockers have started off the season undefeated, going 10-0 for the first time in school history. They haven’t played the toughest schedule in the world but who will play them? Kansas and Kansas State won’t take that chance. Hardly any BCS schools will take them on.
The biggest name schools who the Shockers have played and beat are Tulsa (77-54), BYU (75-62), St. Louis (70-65), and Tennessee (70-61). They play Alabama tonight and Davidson on December 29th, but there are no big boys on this schedule.
Wichita State can only play those who are willing to play them.
In this week’s national polls, the Shockers rank 11th in the AP, 9 in the Coaches (WSU dropped a spot despite beating Tennessee), 19th in the CBSSports Top 25 (plus 1) poll, and they rank 12 in CBSSports’ RPI, and 14th in the ESPN RPI. They have earned their spot despite a Strength of Schedule that ranks 89th by ESPN.
In the AP and Coaches’ poll, they are ranked ahead of such college basketball heavy weights like Kansas (18 – AP, 19-Coaches), North Carolina (14,18), Florida (16,17), UCLA (unranked, 22), and Kentucky (19, 21).
The Shockers’ head coach, Gregg Marshall is 149-70 (.680) in his seventh season with Wichita State. He was given a raise in September, and is signed through 2020, if the Shockers can hang onto him that long. It will get to be more and more difficult if he continues to have this success.
Not only did Marshall lead Wichita State to their second Final Fourand their first since 1965, but he has also won the Missouri Valley Coach of the Year each of the last two seasons. He is well on his way to a third, and maybe consideration for the National Coach of the Year,
This season, the Shockers are led in scoring by sophomore guard Ron Baker with 14.6 points a game, followed by senior forward Cleanthony Early with 14.2. Junior guard Tekele Cotton and sophomore Fred Van Vleet each add 11.3 a game. Early tops the team with 6 rebounds a game and Van Vleet averages 5.5 assists a contest.
As college basketball fans in the state of Kansas, it would be exciting to see Kansas and Kansas State each play Wichita State every year. While it seems petty, for the bigger schools from the Big 12 Conference, it would be a lose/lose proposition.
The big boys would be expected to win each year, and yet there is a good chance the Shockers would win their fair share, especially when the games are played in Wichita. There is little to be gained for the Jayhawks and Wildcats to play the Shockers.
Take this season for instance. Losing on the road to Colorado and Florida, two BCS schools, hurt Kansas enough they fell from a secure place in the top 10 to the bottom quarter of the top 20. Think what damage could be done to Kansas if they lost to a Missouri Valley Conference school. It is terribly unfair, but it is not in the interests of either Bill Self or Bruce Weber to schedule Wichita State.
That being said, it would be a great event each season if these three state schools played each other. One year, Kansas could host the Shockers while the Wildcats traveled to Wichita. The next season it would alternate. It would be great for basketball fans in this state, but probably not great for the Wildcats and Jayhawks.
Why? Because the Wichita State Shockers are a good team and a good program. While it is highly unlikely the Shockers will make to back-to-back Final Fours, as this is tough no matter who you are, it is a fact that Wichita State has proved that last season’s run through the tournament wasn’t a fluke.
Wichita State is a terrific team with a terrific coach.