I have never been to Wichita, Kan. I doubt you have either, as it is a city that doesn’t seem to get much publicity even though the Wichita metro area has more people in it than half the population of Montana. Lately, Wichita has been more than notable in the college basketball universe, as the Wichita State Shockers have shocked the world twice by going 31-0 in the regular season this year to follow up a surprise appearance in last year’s Final Four. Wichita State is the 26th team since 1939 to complete a perfect regular season in Men’s Division I basketball and they will begin their postseason tomorrow as the No. 1 seed at the Missouri Valley Conference tournament in St. Louis. This year the Shockers will look to make another deep run in the NCAA tournament and compete for the championship, but what do their chances really look like?
History has not been on the side of regular season unbeaten teams to win it all. Of the 26 who have accomplished the feat only eight have won it all and four of those teams were from UCLA and coached by the legendary John Wooden. With all due respect to Shockers coach Gregg Marshall, who has proven his high coaching merits, he is not Wooden, meaning history says the odds are against his team, with the last team to finish a season undefeated and win the championship was the Bobby Knight led Indiana Hoosiers in 1976.
Of course Wichita State will not be concerned about history when they tip-off at the NCAA tournament. They obviously beat the odds last year by making the Final Four as a ninth seed. This year they will likely be a No. 1 or No. 2 seed, meaning they will be facing an entirely different kind of pressure. They definitely won’t be flying under anyone’s radar and will be getting the best shot from every team they play as their opponents will want to play the role of spoiler that the Shockers relished last year. While Wichita State is a proven contender, they do not have to deal with a rigorous conference schedule like the big conference contenders, meaning they are not as battle tested. Just ask Gonzaga who last year, as a small conference one seed, could only manage to win one game, and lost their second game to the underdog Shockers. Gonzaga and Wichita State are teams that both thrive in the “us against the world” underdog mentality and being the favorite obviously doesn’t work as well with that mantra.
I don’t say any of this just to rag on Wichita State. They are obviously a great basketball team and their accomplishments as a team speak for themselves. I only want to point out that it is now March and the slate is wiped clean. It is very difficult to win six games in a row and the team that does it is usually not the team who had the best regular season record. Without seeing the brackets as they have yet to come out I am going to predict that the Shockers make it to the Sweet Sixteen or Elite Eight, but not the Final Four. Even though it won’t shock the world as much if they do make it to the Final Four again, accomplishing the feat this year would be a much more impressive accomplishment in my mind for the Shockers. The pressure is on.