Monday, March 10, 2014

What We Think We Know About Wichita State

At 34-0 with one of the nation's best defenses (allowing under 60 ppg) and most balanced offenses (4 players averaging double figures), Wichita State has everything... Except a quality win.
By Joe Parello  @HerewegoJoe

Yesterday, the Shockers of Wichita State completed the greatest season in program history.

Yes, I think it is safe to assume that 34-0, with the school's first Missouri Valley Conference tournament championship since 1987, is enough to call this Wichita State's best team ever, regardless of what the Shockers do in the NCAA tournament.

Of course, what they do there will lead to some fantastic confirmation bias, one way or the other. After all, WSU hasn't beaten a ranked team this season. Oh, and their historic win Sunday? That came against lowly Indiana State, a team clinging to NIT hopes. As for the usually rugged MVC, it looks to be a one-bid league this year.

But dang it, they're 34-0!

So yeah, we don't really have much to tell us how good the Shockers are THIS YEAR, except for the fact that they don't have let-downs and don't lose to bad teams.

We DO know that last year's team, led by Ron Baker and Cleanthony Early, reached the Final Four. We know that both of those guys are back, and that a breakout season from sophomore Fred Vanvleet, the MVC's player of the year, has made WSU even more dangerous. We also know that this year's team is more experienced because, duh, and that they have nice wins over mid-major powers BYU, Davidson, Northern Iowa, Saint Louis, Missouri State and Drake, along with victories over Alabama and Tennessee out of the SEC.

We also know this is the first team to enter the NCAA Tournament undefeated since the 1991 UNLV Runnin' Rebs, and the only team other than that UNLV squad to begin a year 34-0. That team ended the year 34-1 after a disappointing loss to Duke in the Final Four.

If the Shockers were to make the Final Four this year, however, if would totally validate their season. Many will point to the Shockers' weak schedule (rated 131st and 132nd in the country by the Pomeroy and Sagarin computer rankings, respectively) as proof that they're no-good frauds.

This is where we need to make a distinction: The fact that Wichita State hasn't beaten a Top-25 team (though they have, according to RPI), and has played only 3 Top-50 teams doesn't mean that they are bad. It means we don't know if they are THAT good.

If they had lost a few games against this cup cake schedule, then you could begin to make the case that this is a bad team, but they've beaten everybody in front of them. They can't help it if you're not impressed by who those teams are.

Yeah, but any good team could run the table with that schedule!

Oh really.

Kansas, the team that has faced the most Top-25 competition this year, needed a career day from freshman phenom Andrew Wiggins just to stay within striking distance of a West Virginia team that isn't going to the NCAA tournament. The Jayhawks, littered with future NBA lottery picks, were getting their doors blown off by a bad Mountaineer team until Wiggins got hot, and it still wasn't enough.

West Virginia is rated outside the Top-80 in RPI and has a LOSING record against teams in the Top-150… That's a bad team. That's the kind of team Wichita State doesn't lose to.

But we know Kansas can be good. They have quality wins on their resume, but also some confounding losses.

So, while you can make the case that WSU's schedule hasn't prepared them for the NCAAs, or that they are less deserving of the tournament's top overall seed than Florida (who won the SEC, a conference that may only send 3 or 4 teams to the NCAAs, one of whom Wichita State has beaten), you still can't say this team is bad.

We don't know how good they are, but bad teams don't go 34-0 in Division I basketball.

No comments :