Just three years ago, Wichita State assembled one of the greatest regular season records in college basketball history, finishing with a perfect 34-0 through the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament during the 2013-2014 season. Since the beginning off the shot-clock era (post 1984-85 season,) only three other teams have finished the regular season and conference championship still undefeated, joining the likes of UNLV (1991,) Saint Joseph’s (2004,) and Kentucky (2015.) Despite this run through the season, the Shockers finished with a disappointing 1-1 record in the tournament, beating their first round opponent, 16-seed Cal Poly, followed by a loss in the Round of 32 to eventual tournament runner up, 8-seed Kentucky. Since this near perfect season, Wichita State has remained a threat to do the same. Many critics claim that it is Wichita’s weak non-conference schedule, combined with poor caliber teams in the Missouri Valley Conference, that make Wichita appear to be a better team than they really are. This could not be further from the truth.
Under head coach Gregg Marshall, the Shockers (yes, it is a real thing, but probably not quite what you think) have had five straight NCAA tournament appearances and present a strong record of 8-5 in the ‘Big Dance.’ This impressive record even includes an 0-1 campaign in the 2012 season, where the 5-seed Shockers were upset by 12-seed Virginia Commonwealth (another 5 vs 12 upset, not extremely ‘shocking’.) This marks the only season under Marshall’s tenure where the Shockers have failed to win a single game in the NCAA tournament. The following year, Wichita State reloaded and entered the tournament with seven returning upperclassmen, compiling one of the most impressive cinderella-story tournament runs in NCAA history: the Shockers beat the likes of 8-seed Pittsburgh, 1-seed Gonzaga, 13-seed La Salle, and 2-seed Ohio State, only to lose to 1-seed Louisville in the Final Four (who went on to win the National Championship.) While this run may indicate a very good team, as the Shockers’ national ranking according to KenPom was 17th in the country, the Selection Committee only slated them as a mid-tiered 9-seed. For the most part, the rest of the country agreed. Only 38% of brackets in ESPN’s Tournament Challenge picked Wichita to advance to the second round, and a mere 14,000 out of 8.15 million brackets picked them to reach the Final Four, a staggering 0.0017%.
Following their lackluster performance in the tournament after going 34-0 in the regular season, Gregg Marshall’s Shockers delivered impressive 2-1 performances in each NCAA tournament, as 7 and 11-seeds, respectively. Their 2015 run ended in the Sweet Sixteen, falling to the hands of 3-seed Notre Dame. Yet again, the Shockers were extremely undervalued. KenPom ranked Wichita State as the 13th best team in the country, yet the committee appointed them a 7-seed. Similarly, the nation mirrored this view, in that only 26.9% of Tournament Challenge brackets had them reaching the Sweet Sixteen. In 2016, Wichita State was appointed an 11-seed, yet were again KenPom’s 13th best team in the nation. In fact, his seeding spotted the Shockers a 3-seed, eight seed lines better than the Selection Committee’s decision, making them the most underseeded team in the field. The nation followed the Selection Committee’s decision once more, as only 33.5% of brackets chose Wichita State over 6-seed Arizona in the first round, when in fact Arizona was ranked #16 in the country by KenPom’s figures. This would suggest that Wichita State’s victory should not be considered an upset, as they were the truly better team.
Currently, Wichita State has one game remaining in the season against a weaker conference opponent, Missouri State. After a probable win here, the Shockers would enter the MVC tournament 27-4. In Joe Lunardi’s latest projection as February 23rd, Wichita State is looking at an 8-seed, but most of the country believes the Shockers should be one of the first teams not selected for the tournament (considered the first four out.) If they do not win the conference tournament and are given an at large bid this year, be afraid of the Shockers. Currently, they are 12th in the nation according to KenPom and boast their second most powerful offense in the last 16 seasons (only coming in below their near perfect season, accounting for scoring inflation.) Their defense this season is also very strong, coming in at 22nd in the country. These are not traits common for mid-tier seed and should be ones of consideration when filling out your bracket. I am not saying you should have been in the 0.0017% who picked them to reach the Final Four in 2013, but do not be fooled by the Shockers.