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Wichita State’s loss to UNI leaves tournament hopes in doubt

Remove Wichita State’s name from its resume, and it may not be good enough to earn an invite to the NCAA tournament

Wichita State’s name might be the only thing keeping it safely in the NCAA tournament discussion as Selection Sunday approaches. The Shockers lost on Saturday in the semifinals of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, a 57–52 overtime defeat at the hands of Northern Iowa. It was Wichita State’s eighth loss of the season, two more than it had the previous two seasons combined.

The Shockers program that made a Final Four run in 2013, entered the NCAA tournament as an undefeated No. 1 seed in 2014 and made the Sweet Sixteen last spring put together a subpar resume that leaves head coach Gregg Marshall & Co. in danger of missing the Big Dance altogether.

Despite winning the Missouri Valley regular-season title by four games, Wichita State finishes at 24–8. The Shockers’ latest loss prevents them from earning an automatic bid and forces the NCAA tournament selection committee to evaluate their resume as a potential at-large team.

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An at-large bid is supposed to be objectively determined based on what a team has accomplished in a particular single season, but that could be difficult for fans, bracketologists and even selection committee members, intentionally or subconsciously, given the Shockers’ sustained success. Three consecutive 30-plus win seasons and four straight NCAA tournament appearances can give a team the benefit of the doubt when it loses five of its six toughest nonconference games.

By playing NCAA tournament-level teams outside of conference play, Wichita State’s ranking in the RPI is inside the top 40 nationally, but its strength of schedule is still outside the top 100.

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A nonconference win over Utah, which was No. 8 in the RPI entering the weekend, is the only win of note on Wichita State’s resume. Using the NCAA’s RPI rankings entering Saturday, Wichita State has a 1–5 record against opponents ranked in the top 80 of the RPI. It has three other wins—two against Evansville, one against Northern Iowa—against teams ranked just inside the top 100 of the RPI but Northern Iowa also won two of three against the Shockers.

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A silver lining for the Shockers is that point guard Fred VanVleet was sidelined with an injury for three nonconference losses, forward Anton Grady sat out the team’s loss to Iowa due to an injury and they’ve only fallen four times since Kansas transfer Conner Frankamp became eligible midseason. The selection committee will consider those factors when weighing Wichita State’s at-large chances, but it doesn’t erase the losses.

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There’s no denying Wichita State’s past excellence, its veteran backcourt of VanVleet and Ron Baker and the NCAA tournament experience of Marshall. But when removing emotion and previous accomplishments from the equation, Wichita State’s 32-game resume leaves much to be desired and will leave it sweating come selection time. If the Shockers do hear their name called, it will be as a higher seed. ranks Wichita State as a top-10 team with the most efficient defense in the country, but the team’s resume may not be worthy of an at-large bid or a low seed. Advanced statistics, coaching and previous NCAA tournament success may support an argument that the Shockers are one of the country’s 68 best teams, but that doesn’t mean they possess one of the country’s 68 best resumes.

In a season full of surprising results, Wichita State’s omission from the NCAA tournament could be the next one.