Columnists, Sports

Fish and Chipps: Is Wichita State legitimate?

If you are shocked that the Wichita State University is the only undefeated team left in college basketball this season, don’t be.

At this time last season, the Shockers were virtually unknown to everyone north of the Mason-Dixon line.

But a little madness in March forever changed the “Wichita State of mind.”

Behind the leadership of their charismatic coach Gregg Marshall, the Shockers became America’s “Diaper Dandy,” and favorite underdog, miraculously usurping favorites like No. 1 seed Gonzaga University and powerhouse program Ohio State University to make it all the way to the Final Four, coming within four points of defeating the eventual champions, the University of Louisville.

After their unprecedented run to the Final Four last season, critics were certain that Wichita State would fall into the typical lapse that most mid-major teams crumble to after their 15 minutes of fame: mediocrity.

But this Wichita State team is not your average “one-and-done” underdog team. Their team motto, “play angry,” perfectly describes how this team has continued their unprecedented run of success this year.

This season, the Shockers have once again shocked the college basketball world with their 30-0 record and their ascension to basketball glory.

After Boston College’s upset over Syracuse University last week, Wichita States now claims the throne as top dog in college basketball, with the chance to become the first team since the 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers to go undefeated over the course of an entire season.

With the rise to power so quickly and that big fat zero in the loss column this season, many spectators have been critical of Wichita State’s worth come March, and with good reason.

The Shockers play in the Missouri Valley Conference, a mid-major league with teams like the University of Evansville, Bradley University and Drake University. Skepticism arrives when you see the Shockers’ schedule includes all three of these teams, who are three of the bottom teams in the conference and together have a combined 17-34 record in conference play.

To make matters more interesting, Wichita State has only one win against a team in the RPI top-25, and its two best wins this season were against bubble teams like Brigham Young University and the Saint Louis University. In comparison to No. 6 Duke University, who just knocked off then-No.1 Syracuse this past Saturday 66-60, the Blue Devils have the third-toughest schedule in all of college basketball and have played eight teams inside the RPI top-25.

The Shockers’ resume has its faults, and you shouldn’t overlook their weak schedule because it may be their demise come March. But their formula for success is one built for title runs, not for shaking off the haters.

First and foremost, the Shockers are a team built with balance, having four players averaging 10 points per game, a rarity in college basketball today.  As a team, Wichita State is shooting a solid 45.5 percent from the field and 34 percent from the 3-point line.

But it’s the Shocker defense that has been the staple behind the team’s undefeated season. Wichita State is in the top 10 in rebounding margin and 16th in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just over 60 points per game.

While the numbers are impressive, the Shockers’ cohesiveness has put them in contention for their first-ever NCAA title. Watching the Shockers play, you quickly notice coach Marshall’s imprint on his team. Wichita State only commits 10 turnovers per game, and the backcourt composed of guards Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker control the game fluidly.

The Shockers are also unique in that they rely on their bench so heavily, with guys like forward Darius Carter and guard Nick Wiggins (Andrew Wiggins’ older brother) contributing with eight and five points per game, respectively.

But above all, Wichita State’s greatest asset is its experience, which it will have to lean on heavily if it plans on making a return trip to the Final Four, and ultimately winning a national championship.

The Shockers are the same team as they were a year ago when no one knew what they were capable of accomplishing. With the underdog status lifted and all but assured number No. 1 seed come tourney time, the Shockers will have to prepare like they’re the team that’s being hunted and not the hunter.

Can they repeat a run to the Final Four? On paper, the ruling says no. But then again, how often does the best team actually win the title? Winning the NCAA Tournament is about two things: matchups and being hot at the right time.

Wichita State will undoubtedly cause matchup problems for any team they play in the tournament, and last time I checked the Shockers have been pretty hot all season.

Smells like another Final Four to me.

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