Prepare yourselves, Hoopheads. It's time for the Shock Wave.
Sure, there are plenty of good storylines in college hoops (the freshmen, The Dougie, the Big Ten race), but there is no doubt that Wichita State is The Show. Technically, Syracuse is also still undefeated, but all of us sense the Orange is living on borrowed time. There are only so many times a great team can pull of great escapes. Besides, Syracuse is a powerhouse program. We expect this level of success.
Wichita State, on the other hand, is an anomaly -- a midmajor team coming off a Final Four which has a very good chance to be the first team since UNLV in 1991 to enter the NCAA tournament undefeated. That kind of profile yields lots of doubt and debate, which was evident during my weekly Twenty for Tuesday chat on Twitter. Here is a sample of the questions that showed up in my Mentions feed.
Chris (@CMBHeel): What is the I-Told-You-So line for Wichita State (for reasonable people)? 16, 8?
Leigh Knubley (@LKnubs): Is WSU for real and how far into the tourney do you see them going?
Cole Thompson (@cathompson1987): Who could be the Wichita State of last year in this years tourney??
Lucas Hohn (@LaHohn_Sports): How many Big Ten teams can beat Wichita State, on a neutral floor?
Jake Gose (@JakeGose): Could Wichita State eventually become historically the best mid-major school ever?
Stephen Runyan (@Runyan1127): Why is there so much hate for WSU? Can't we all appreciate what these kids are doing?
My answers, in order:
Assuming there are still any reasonable people left on Twitter, I'd say the Elite Eight. It'd be unfair to proclaim that even a No. 1 seed should make the Final Four or it's considered a bust. The Sweet Sixteen is probably a push, but an exit in the Round of 32 would fuel the arguments being advanced by the skeptics. Just ask Gonzaga, which was a controversial No. 1 seed last season and lost in the Round of 32 to -- ta da! -- Wichita State.
Yes, I believe the Shockers are for real. I'd be, well, shocked if they're not playing on the second weekend. And I wouldn't be, well, shocked if they ended up in Arlington. I seem to recall this team making the Final Four last year with basically the same players.
Cole, the obvious answer is Wichita State. Less obvious: Saint Louis.
Lucas, most of the Big Ten could beat Wichita State on a neutral court. Most of the Big Ten could also lose to Wichita State on a neutral court. That's called basketball. I'm not saying Wichita State would win the Big Ten if it were in that conference, but it absolutely would contend for the title. Or don't you believe the Shockers could beat Nebraska at home?
Best midmajor ever? That's a high bar. The only way the Shockers can lay that claim is to win the whole shebang. The last midmajor to win an NCAA championship was UNLV in 1990, but even though the Runnin' Rebels played in the Big West Conference, they did not fit the accepted definition of midmajor. Before that, you'd have to go back to Texas Western in 1966 and Loyola in 1963 to find midmajors that won the title. However, in the last eight years, Butler went to back-to-back national championship games, and George Mason and VCU have been to the Final Four. So we've got a ways to go before we think about giving Wichita State this label.
All the hate? Beats me, Stephen. But I'm not so sure that it is hate so much as it is healthy skepticism. I say bring it on. The Shockers are The Show, and one way or another they're going to be highly entertaining from here on out.
Let me conclude by addressing the topic of Wichita State's NCAA tournament seeding. There is a big difference between thinking a team is "overrated" and wanting to give them a lower seed based on that opinion. If the Shockers do enter Selection Sunday undefeated, they will be a mortal lock for a No. 1 seed. There won't be a debate. Even if they finish the regular season undefeated and then lose in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, I still think they should be a No. 1 seed, but it might depend on what some of the other top candidates have done. The reality is, Wichita State has just two wins against teams ranked in the top 50 of the RPI. There are bubble teams with more wins than that.
And let me raise one more possibility: If Wichita State does run the table through the conference tournament, they will be in the running for the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament. Sure, Syracuse and Florida have the inside track, but should those teams lose a couple between now and then, the Shockers will have a strong case to be the next men up.
Finally, I know I said it before, but let me say it again: This team made the Final Four last year and had Louisville on the ropes in the second half of the national semifinal. They pass the eye test with flying colors. So you can count me among the believers.
Jon Kattelman (@jkat513): Can I hear your first team All-American group as of now?
I've been shuffling this around for several weeks, but I believe I have settled on a Firm Four:
Doug McDermott, Creighton. No-brainer. If you don't vote McBuckets for national player of the year, you don't deserve a vote.
Jabari Parker, Duke. Had a brief downturn that lasted about three games, but he is getting better every time he steps on the court -- which is a scary thought for opponents.
Shabazz Napier, UConn. Unguardable as a scorer while leading the AAC in assists and ranking third in steals.
Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati. Like Napier, he's the only elite scorer on his team. Despite all that defensive attention, he is leading the AAC in scoring while ranking 10th in field goal percentage and three-point percentage.
Here's how I would rank my top candidates for the coveted fifth spot:
1. Julius Randle, Kentucky
2. Tyler Ennis, Syracuse
3. DeAndre Kane, Iowa State
4. Russ Smith, Louisville
5. Scottie Wilbekin, Florida
Jeff Kelly (@jekelish): At this point do you think Syracuse NEEDS to lose a game? They're clearly worn down and then some pressure would be off.
It is hard to make this argument to athletes and coaches, but I buy into it. The burden of being undefeated can be quite heavy, and coaches have a hard time keeping their guys playing to win instead of playing not to lose. There's a reason no team has gone wire to wire since Indiana in 1976. I'm not saying it's impossible, but I wouldn't recommend trying to flirt with history.
Having said that, I was persuaded by Jim Boeheim's answer when I posed it to him over lunch in Syracuse last week: "I disagree because I think the more pressure you have in the regular season, then you're going to be used to that pressure in the NCAA tournament. Once you get to the tournament the pressure is huge, whether you've lost none or one or two. So I don't buy into that."
Robert Bahar (@robbahar): What team outside of the top 25 has the best shot at reaching the Final Four?
Don't laugh, Hoopheads. These are by definition long shots. My top five, in order:
1. Pittsburgh. They've lost every important game they've played, but they've also been competitive in each one. They also have a dynamic take-over guy in Lamar Patterson. That goes a long way.
2. New Mexico. I know, Lobos fans will settle for a win or two, but I love the inside tandem of Kirk and Bairstow.
3. SMU. Wouldn't it be just like Larry Brown to lead his team to Arlington and then bolt for the Pistons?
4. VCU. Havoc can still wreak havoc on teams that aren't used to playing against it. If this team could make a few three-pointers, it might be ranked in the top 10.
5. Stephen F. Austin. Snicker all you want, smart guy, but the Lumberjacks haven't lost since Nov. 23 and they rank 14th in the country in scoring margin. Winning is a habit.
Brandon Odell (@sportsfanatic39): (Do) you agree that having to be 20 to go pro will also help college hoops a lot?
The answer depends on how you define the word "help." From a marketing and competitive standpoint, there is plenty of upside to seeing the draft age minimum go to 20. However, I don't believe that would be fair to players who have a chance to become professionals. Will some of them make mistakes by leaving? Sure. But many of them will also benefit by taking advantage of an opportunity afforded them by the marketplace. My message to the NBA is that if you don't want these young kids in your league, then stop drafting them. Besides, college is not for everyone. I don't see how the academic mission (please try not to laugh when I use that phrase) of college athletics is served by forcing young people to go to school if they don't want to be there. If I had my druthers, there would be no age minimum at all to enter the draft.
I noticed that this issue got some extra play over NBA All-Star weekend because the league's new commissioner, Adam Silver, voiced his support for increasing the age minimum for 20. This made for catchy headlines, but it wasn't news. This was always the league's preference, so the only thing different was that someone else was saying it on behalf of the NBA. The NBA Players Association has always maintained that it does not want any age minimum. That's because the younger a player is when he enters the league, the more free agent contracts he will sign, and therefore the more money he will make. That's right, this whole thing is about money. Shocking, isn't it? The leadership of the NBAPA is in flux, but there is no indication that its position on this issue is going to change. Unless it does, we are stuck with the status quo.