2014 NCAA Tournament Handicapping: Does Wichita State Deserve Top Seed?
by Trevor Whenham - 3/4/2014
There isn’t going to be a tougher team to assess heading into the NCAA Tournament than the Wichita State Shockers. On one hand, they were a Final Four team last year, and their core is the same. They also are the only team that hasn’t lost a game, and they are the first to win 31 in the regular season. They are ranked second in the country, earned 14 out of 65 first-place votes in the latest AP Poll, and are the fourth choice at +1000 to win it all at Sportsbook.ag. On the other hand, though, they play in a conference that is extremely tough to respect, and their nonconference schedule was far from overwhelming. So, is this a deserving top seed? Or are they overrated and destined to disappoint? Just thinking about it makes my head hurt.
Here are six factors to consider when trying to figure out this team for yourself:
Saint Louis, Davidson, BYU and Tennessee: These four teams are the best wins that Wichita State has. Saint Louis is a very good team, and it was a strong victory. Davidson is 15-1 in the Southern Conference, but that is far from a strong group this year. BYU has 21 wins and is solidly tied for second in the WCC. They are on the outside of the bubble right now, but with a tournament run could be dancing. Tennessee is probably in a three-way fight for the final two tournament spots in the SEC, and they would likely be the team on the outside looking in right now. So, the tally is one legitimate Top 20 squad, a likely automatic qualifier from a lousy conference, and two bubble teams. It’s not a wonder people are skeptical about what this team has actually accomplished.
Everyone else: The rest of the schedule is just plain lousy. Indiana State is the second-best team in the MVC, but they are far from good. Outside of the four solid wins, the best opponents are a really underwhelming Alabama team and a forgettable Oral Roberts team. Or maybe Western Kentucky. It’s just a weak, weak schedule, and no amount of spin can change that.
Experience: This is a team that went all the way to the Final Four last year. They beat Gonzaga and Ohio State along the way and fell only four points short against eventual champions Louisville. They lost two big contributors in Carl Hall and Malcolm Armstead — both West Regional all-tournament team members last year. The rest of the valuable core has returned, though, including superstar Cleanthony Early. They have only one freshman playing significant minutes. This team is battle-tested, so nothing that they face going forward is going to come as a surprise. The value of that can’t be overstated.
Coaching: Gregg Marshall is an extremely good coach. In nine years at Winthrop he went to the NCAA Tournament seven times. The school had never been to the tournament before he arrived and has only nine overall appearances. He has averaged 29 wins in each of the last three years at Wichita State after taking over a team that went 11-20 in his first season, and he will pull that average way up this year. He won the NIT in 2011, won a tournament game in 2012, and had his Final Four run last year. He can flat out coach. He could have had any job he wanted after last season, too, and he stayed where he was. That gives his team massive confidence and is proof of how much he believes in his program.
Pressure: This is a very different situation than last year. In 2013 they were a nine seed. They were a popular wise guy pick for a first-round upset, but facing a very good Gonzaga team in the second round had few people giving them much thought. They were playing on house money from the outset, and they never had anything to lose. Now they have a massive target on their back. They are ranked second in the country, could very well be a top seed in the tournament, and will be a team that every program will want to knock back down to earth. The pressure is fundamentally different, and it remains to be seen how they can handle being hunted instead of being the stealth hunters.
31 is 31: Thirty-one wins is 31 wins regardless of who they came against. Sure, most of the opponents weren’t particularly strong. They didn’t lose any of those games, though. That means that not once did they take someone too lightly or have an off day. They won 15 of their 18 conference games by double-digits, so they played hard even when a lesser effort wouldn’t have likely been adequate. You can question the schedule, the depth, or the overall talent level, but you certainly can’t question the commitment or focus. This is one disciplined squad. Assuming they can maintain that focus into and through their conference tournament, this will be a real team to respect.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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