For the first time since 1991, a team will enter the NCAA tournament with an unblemished record. That team, the UNLV Runnin' Rebels, has gone down in history as one of the best not to win the national championship. For this year's Wichita State Shockers, the end to their story remains unwritten.
The Shockers moved to 34-0 and wrapped up a perfect regular and conference season by knocking off Indiana State, 83-69, in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament championship. It was their first conference tournament championship since 1987.
Fred VanVleet, the conference player of the year, led the way with 22 points on 9-of-14 shooting. Tekele Cotton had 20 points and drained four of his six attempts from behind the arc. The Sycamores hung with the Shockers for most of the game, and trailed by just four points with 13 minutes left in the game. After that, however, Wichita State went on a 21-7 run over the next seven minutes to take control of the game.
With the win, the Shockers almost certainly locked up one of the four No. 1 seeds in the tournament. They still have their doubters, thanks primarily to a strength of schedule that ranks 102nd in the country. Their season to this point has been a major accomplishment, but the questions are valid. They have just one win over a team that is a lock for the tournament, a road victory over a Saint Louis team that has really struggled down the stretch. They have two other wins against top-50 RPI teams, but both of this victims -- BYU and Tennessee -- could end up in the NIT. Is that a better resume than, say Wisconsin's, which boasts eight wins over teams in the top 50? Or what about Kansas, a team that has lost eight times but has 12 top-50 wins and 17 top-100 wins? That debate will rage until Selection Sunday, and may continue until the tournament starts. Wichita State probably won't win over its critics unless it makes a trip to Dallas at the end of the month. That UNLV team of 1990-91 likely doesn't take any solace in being remembered as one of the best non-champions ever. History won't even be that kind to the Shockers if they come up short over the next three weeks.