Wichita State matches '76 Hoosiers, '57 Tar Heels at 32-0. Next up: Larry Bird
Unlike the last team to enter its conference tournament without a loss, Wichita State's brilliant, undefeated season did not splatter unceremoniously once the postseason began. The second-ranked Shockers did not go wobbly in the knees, as then-No. 1 St. Joe's did almost exactly 10 years ago, getting routed by 20 points in its 2004 Atlantic 10 tournament opener against unranked Xavier. No, Wichita State encountered Evansville in an Arch Madness quarterfinal on Thursday and did the routing, advancing to the semifinals with an 80-55 victory that had a machete-through-underbrush feel.
Wichita State is now 32-0, just the fifth Division I men's team ever to manage that.
“What's not to like?” Shockers coach Gregg Marshall said in a postgame television interview.
Precious little, at this point. Wichita State has matched the record posted by the last undefeated national champion, with Indiana famously going 32-0 en route to a title in 19776. North Carolina also won the championship with the same mark in 1957, while four UCLA teams went 30-0 and the 1956 San Francisco Dons, led by Bill Russell, were 29-0.
The Shockers can get to 34-0 by winning the Missouri Valley Conference tournament title for the first time on Sunday. That would enable them to enter the NCAA tournament unbeaten and have more than a week of rest before trying for the only undefeated streak that really matters: six straight wins in the big dance.
With all that time between games, Wichita State will actually be off the map for the first time during much of this magical season that comes on the heels of its unexpected run to last year's Final Four. It'll be Here There Be Monsters-type stuff.
Which will be funny, since that's what most Missouri Valley teams might see on Wichita State scouting reports. Evansville was the latest victim by asphyxiation. The Shockers recorded 11 blocks Thursday, a record for this tournament. They added nine steals and limited the Aces to 36.8 percent shooting overall but just 34.1 percent efficiency on two-point attempts. Nothing came easy, except of course the result.
"Our new streak is 1-0" Shockers guard Fred VanVleet said after Friday's win. "One and done. Now we got one. Can't get to three without two, so that's what our focus is." Next is the winner of Missouri State-Illinois State, and it was the Bears that took the Shockers to overtime on Jan. 11 for their closest call of the season. But for all the talk about how thin the air is getting for Wichita State at this altitude, playing jinx-proof basketball is what got the Shockers where they are. They did so again Thursday in a clinical win. Nothing is changing, and as long as that's true, the zero in the loss column might not either.