Wichita State knocked off Missouri State 68-45 over the weekend to finish off a perfect regular season, to which a lot of people said, “WEAK SCHEDULE, IT DOES NOT MATTER, THEY’LL GET KNOCKED OUT OF THE NCAA TOURNAMENT QUICKER THAN GONZAGA LAST YEAR.” Could that happen? Sure. Should even the possibility of that diminish the fact Wichita State just knocked off 31 wins in a row against actual D-1 basketball teams? Not really unless (or until) that actually happens.
This is what we know about Wichita State. They play in the now raided Missouri Valley, and made it to the Final Four last season. These are probably the two biggest arguments people will use to argue for or against Wichita State’s undefeated run through the regular season.
The con argument is probably one of the biggest disappointments of this round of conference realignment. With the Big East’s basketball only schools breaking off, they were looking for a few more basketball teams to join the fray. They took in Butler and Xavier from the A-10 and Creighton from the Missouri Valley. The Missouri Valley in turn took Loyola Illinois to replace the Blue Jays this season.
For the purposes of this argument, the Shockers lost two games against the Doug McDermott led Bluejays and replaced them with two games against Loyola who in turn finished last in the Valley. That was only part of Wichita’s problem with their schedule. Other problems with it included Tennessee and Alabama not doing much as the season went along. They also played St. Louis and BYU (teams that might or will get NCAA Tournament bids). All in all, that wouldn’t be a terrible non-conference schedule for a team playing in a tough league, but leaves you desiring more of a challenge with a weak conference.
And a weak conference is what Wichita State got. The second place team (Indiana State) finished with nine overall losses, six of them in conference, and nobody else in conference finished with single digit losses overall. These are all things that people will point to and discount Wichita State’s run as a fluke or something totally irrelevant. So judging by that, people should run through the regular season semi-regularly playing a weak schedule, right? Well yes, except for the fact it’s been ten years since some other team has accomplished making it through the season without a loss.
So despite playing a not-great schedule, Wichita State has done what almost every other team is unable to do, and do so without losing. Does this really mean much in the grand scheme of things, or will they go the way of 2013 Gonzaga and get bounced the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament or will they go on a run rivaling their Final Four appearance last year? Knowing Gonzaga’s general history in the tournament (not great), Wichita State’s past two seasons (really quite excellent), and the history of the most recent undefeated regular season teams, a really early exit might be a surprise.
St. Joseph’s was the last team to make it through the regular season without losing, and they promptly dumped a conference tournament game. So entering the NCAA Tournament off their first loss of the year, they rebounded, beat Liberty, Texas Tech and Wake Forest (Apparently losing to St. Joes in 2004 was a program’s kiss of death) before bowing out in the Elite Eight. Before that UNLV made a run to the Final Four after going undefeated in 1991 before losing to Duke.
Knowing all of these factors, it would seem to be a surprise to see Wichita State get upset in their first (or even second) NCAA game. That being said, a Sweet Sixteen or Elite Eight exit would not be that much of an upset, nor should that diminish what Wichita accomplished in the regular season.
By Christopher Burgess