Saturday March 7th, 2015

The madness has already arrived. 

The Missouri Valley Conference tournament is in full swing in St. Louis, and the event dubbed "Arch Madness" is living up to its name in the semifinals. 

Everyone wanted to see Wichita State-Northern Iowa Part III, a rubber match of the top-15 schools on a neutral court after they split their regular season series. But Illinois State crashed the party, taking down the Shockers 65-62 on Saturday to advance to the MVC final.

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WSU had an eight-point lead at halftime against the Redbirds, but let things slip away in the second half as Illinois State mounted a comeback. Daishon Knight punished the Shockers with 25 points, while Fred VanVleet led Wichita State with 19 points. 

The loss is shocking and unexpected for a Wichita team that steam rolled the conference in the regular season, dropping only a road game to the aforementioned Panthers. And it leaves the Shockers in a much more perilous situation than it was a week ago in terms of NCAA tournament seeding.

Prior to its home win over then-No. 10 Northern Iowa last weekend, Wichita State was missing one key thing on its resume: a marquee win. The Shockers got that in their 74-60 win over the Panthers, but the win doesn't have nearly as much meaning when it's followed up with the early Arch Madness departure.

The loss to the Redbirds isn't terrible on its own. Illinois State is No. 68 in the KenPom rankings and took Northern Iowa to the brink in a one-point home loss in January. But it's a game the Shockers needed to and should have won in their quest for a high NCAA seed. The strength of their 28-4 record will now almost certainly be questioned — if it wasn't already — and will likely cost the team big on Selection Sunday.

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One of the four came in early December to Utah, a one-point overtime loss. On Christmas Day, the Shockers fell to George Washington (No. 78 in KenPom), and the road loss to Northern Iowa came on Jan. 31. Since then, WSU had reeled off nine straight wins heading into Saturday, but outside of the one over the Panthers it owns zero victories over KenPom top 50 teams. 

 

The Shockers were listed as a No. 6 seed in SI.com's latest Bracket Watch, and this team could end up falling to a No. 7- or No. 8-seed now. An 8-seed would be a worst-case scenario for Wichita, as it would mean a date with a No. 1-seed if the team won its opening game. 

For now, WSU must sit and wait. While most teams still have their full conference tournaments to play in, the Shockers can only work on improving in practice as they await Selection Sunday on March 15.

Illinois State, the No. 4 seed in the MVC tournament, advances to face the winner of Northern Iowa vs. Loyola-Chicago in the final on Sunday. Can the Redbirds pull off the double-shocker and steal an NCAA tournament bid? We'll know soon enough.

 

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