Should his Wichita State Shockers win the Midwest Regional on March 30 at Lucas Oil Stadium, coach Gregg Marshall will be required to attend a press conference to take questions from the hundreds of media members that cover the event. If I were Marshall, I’d sit down at the podium and utter these words: “Please keep doubting us, because you’re making my job awfully easy.”
Marshall seems like a classy guy, so I doubt he’d indulge in repeating my personal feelings. So, I’ll rant a little bit on Marshall’s behalf: 34-0 Wichita State is good. Final Four-good. National champion-good.
Just because the roster doesn’t have a single McDonald’s All-American doesn’t mean the Shockers can’t compete with the best. This isn’t a flavor-of-the-week squad like Florida Gulf Coast or even some middling power conference squad catching lightning in a bottle — Wichita State is a well-oiled, well-coached boa constrictor of a team that doesn’t screw up and has the talent to knock off the “big boys.”
And all the doubt and skepticism just adds fuel to the Shockers’ ‘Play Angry’ mantra.
I admit that I was once a doubter. I watched Ohio State, my alma mater, get dismantled by the Shockers in last season’s Elite Eight. I thought the Buckeyes, who were winners of 11 in a row to that point, were shoo-ins to reach the Final Four. Afterwards, I felt a little embarrassed that a so-called mid-major toppled OSU in its quest for back-to-back Final Four trips.
But then I watched Wichita State go toe-to-toe with eventual national champion Louisville in the national semifinals, losing to the Cardinals only because Luke Hancock channeled his inner Stephen Curry in the second half.
And I watched the Shockers multiple times this season, I gained more and more respect for a squad taking everyone’s best shot night after night.
After recently speaking with peers who are longtime college basketball observers and asking them what they think about Marshall’s bunch, I received skeptical answers. When I asked those same people if they’ve even seen Wichita State play this year, the answer was either “very little” or “nope.”
So, a portion of the hesitation to believe in the Shockers stems from laziness. The other part of is the team’s schedule, ranked 94th in the nation by CBS in terms of overall strength and contains only one team (Saint Louis) that is a lock for the NCAA tournament.
But when I see Wichita State play, I see the team that controlled traditional powers Pittsburgh, Gonzaga and Ohio State on its way to the Final Four last year.
I see a team that’s been taken to another level by sophomore point guard Fred VanVleet, the Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year and college basketball’s version of Chris Paul.
I see a team ranked in top 10 of kenpom.com’s offensive and defensive efficiency ratings, which means the Shockers are equally capable of lighting up the scoreboard — they made at least nine 3-pointers in each of their three Missouri Valley Conference tournament wins — or locking down on defense.
I see the confidence that a winning program — Wichita State has at least 27 victories for the fourth straight season — plays with on a nightly basis. And I see a team chasing history, as the Shockers are the first team to enter the NCAA tournament unbeaten since 1991-92 UNLV and could be the first undefeated team to win the national title since 1975-76 Indiana.
“You can debate what you want to debate. Facts are facts, truth is truth,” VanVleet said after the Shockers beat Indiana State 83-69 Sunday to claim the MVC tournament championship. “We’re not into debating how good or great we are how bad somebody else (is).
“That’s for barber shop talk and coffee table arguments. We’re not into that stuff. If they feel that way, it’s on them. And nobody that’s arguing about it is on the selection committee.”
So keep doubting Wichita State. I just hope Marshall only takes me half-serious later this month when I ask him if his job is as easy at it looks.
Now, the rest of the Top Freking 10:
2. FLORIDA (last week: 2)
Even if the Gators — who became the first SEC squad to go 18-0 in league play after beating Kentucky Saturday — lose at any point in the SEC tournament, they should be placed on the opposite side of the bracket as Wichita State to ensure that the best two teams could potentially face off in the final.
3. ARIZONA (LW: 3)
The Wildcats lost at Oregon Saturday, but they stay put because they played well in front of an Autzen Stadium-like atmosphere against a Duck squad that was I-don’t-have-a-date-a-week-before-prom desperate for a win against an elite team to enhance its chances for an at-large NCAA tourney berth.
4. VILLANOVA (LW: 10)
A No. 1 seed is in play for the regular-season champions of the Big East. The Wildcats’ lone losses are to Creighton (twice) and Syracuse.
5. LOUISVILLE (LW: NR)
The Cardinals went 10-2 in their last 12 games of the regular season. Prior to postseason play, the 2012-13 team was 11-1 in its final 12 games before winning the national title.
6. MICHIGAN (LW: 9)
The regular season champions of the Big Ten enter conference tournament play winners of five in a row and could play Indiana for the third time in six weeks Friday.
7. DUKE (LW: 4)
The Blue Devils followed up an odd loss at Wake Forest with a 93-81 win over red-hot Carolina Saturday. Freshman Jabari Parker was sensational, scoring 30 points, grabbing 11 boards and notching just turnover.
8. VIRGINIA (LW: 5)
Maryland, playing in its final ACC regular season game before moving on to the Big Ten in 2014-15, ended the Cavaliers’ 13-game winning streak Sunday.
9. KANSAS (LW: 6)
KU coach Bill Self isn’t sure if freshman center Joel Embiid (back) will play in the Big 12 tournament, but is confident the 7-footer will be ready for NCAAs. Lucky for Self, Andrew Wiggins — the Jayhawks’ other stud frosh — is playing tremendously well down the stretch. Wiggins had 41 points in a loss to West Virginia Sunday.
10. SAN DIEGO STATE (LW: NR)
A 19-1 run helped the outright Mountain West Conference champs overcome a 16-point second-half deficit and avoid a second loss to New Mexico Sunday.
Dropped out: Syracuse (7), Wisconsin (8)
Grant Freking is a sportswriter for the Daily Reporter. Contact him at (317) 477-3230 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.