Editor’s note: This column is written as part of a point-counterpoint. The other column, arguing that Wichita State doesn't deserve the No. 1 seed, can be read here.
31-0. How many teams can say they finished its regular season unbeaten? Only one can this year, and only 24 (many of which didn’t play near 30-game schedules) have since the national tournament era began in 1938.
In the past 34 years, only two teams have swept their entire slate, and the last time a team won its first 30 games was 23 years ago. Wichita State is the lone squad without an “L” on their schedule this season and should be rewarded because of it.
Naysayers of the Shockers attribute the team’s success to lack of competition. Playing in the Missouri Valley Conference hasn’t done Wichita State any favors, but if it was that easy to go undefeated in a mid-major conference, wouldn’t we see it more often? The last time a team went undefeated was in 2004, when the Jameer Nelson-led Saint Joseph’s Hawks went 27-0 in the Atlantic 10, only to lose by 20 points to Xavier in the first conference tournament game. The Hawks still garnered a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament and proved doubters wrong by reaching the Elite Eight before losing to Oklahoma State by two points.
In a season with a ton of parity, just about every top-25 team has a bad loss or two. Wichita State not only doesn’t have any losses, but has breezed through its schedule with ease, winning by an average of 16 points this season. The Shockers have not had a challenge all year other than their overtime win at Missouri State, a game where Wichita State rallied after being down as many as 19 points. They have had just 6 games where they’ve won by fewer than 10 points all season. The Shockers’ signature win came early in the year, when they went on the road and beat then-unranked Saint Louis by five.
This season’s national tournament will likely require more than just skill to make a deep run, and Wichita State has the skill and intangibles to repeat a Final Four appearance or, even better, win a national championship. Experience will be key in a season where everyone has focused on players with potential, like Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, or Calipari’s NBA-bound Kentucky squad.
The Shockers return three cogs from their Final Four team, forward Cleanthony Early, guards Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton, and have turned former role players Fred VanVleet and Darius Carter into key contributors.
The Shockers also bring more physicality to the hardwood than just about anyone else out there, rebounding and defending at some of the best rates in the nation. Through 31 games, Wichita State ranks ninth in the country in total rebounds (1201) and rebounding margin (8.1). It also only allows 59.9 points per game to opposing teams, which is good for 12th in the country.
Regardless of whether you think Wichita State is “real” or not, you have to give it credit for its historical run. That includes you, NCAA selection committee.
Blake is a senior in Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.