by Paul West
In case you missed it, the Wichita State Shockers steamrolled another team today. They’re 33-0, and they’re finally in the conversation as the top #1 seed in the 2014 NCAA Tournament. Still, there still seems to be a lot of equivocating about their status as a threat to win the national title. Here’s why it would be ill advised to overlook them when you’re managing your bracket.
Been there, done that
Soft schedule or not, it bears noting that this is mainly the same team that went to the Final Four last year as a 9 seed. After battling through a tough Midwest bracket, they had the Louisville Cardinals on the ropes for most of the game and lost 72-68; Louisville went on to win the national title, and the Shockers showed the world they could hang with the marquee teams. Regardless of their bracket, they’re unlikely to be intimidated by a moment or opponent, no matter how big.
The Shockers can score from inside and outside the paint. They have four players averaging double digits in scoring, and their top three scorers shoot over 80 percent from the line. The Shockers score 75.5 points per game while allowing a 9th-best 59.3 per game; they’re 27th in the country in offensive rebounds and 20th in defensive rebounds; they average 7 steals and 5.3 blocks per game, and they can run the floor in transition. They attack the boards, they distribute the ball and they don’t seem to have a glaring weak link on either side of the floor.
Coaching & leadership
Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall has a history of getting a lot out of mid-major teams. He spent nine years putting Winthrop on the college basketball map with seven March Madness tournament appearances (including 2o06, when Winthrop was a 15 seed that lost to the 2-seed on a long three at the buzzer). The Shockers’ point guard, 5’11” Fred VanVleet, is one of the best floor generals you might not have heard of. Leading scorer Cleanthony Early is a senior who hustles hard on offense and defense. Even in blowouts, the Shockers hit the floor for loose balls; after the win that made the Shockers 33-0, Marshall spoke of how his guys “never take a play off.” They don’t beat themselves with poor decisions or turnovers, either.
Chip on their shoulder
The Wichita State Shockers aren’t a chippy team, but they play with a bit of something to prove. They know they still have more doubters than they deserve, and they’re playing as hungry as you’ll see a 33-0 team play. They can only play the teams in front of them, and they play them–and generally thrash them–with the aplomb of a team that knows you’re waiting for them to get exposed. If they continue their unbeaten run and finish as Missouri Valley Conference champions, they’re deserving of the top seed overall.