The Shockers out of Wichita State are causing debate in the college basketball world. Over the weekend, the Shockers finished the regular season with a perfect 31-0 record and remained the number two ranked team in the country behind only Florida. Conventional wisdom would lead one to believe that going through their regular season undefeated and being the no. 2 team in the country would all but secure a no. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, but the Shockers are making experts think twice about this. Last year the Gonzaga Bulldogs were in a similar situation coming from a smaller conference and becoming the overall no. 1 seed. This will only help Wichita State as they are also vying for the No. 1 overall seed in this year’s tournament.
Over the past 10 years, the teams of so-called mid major conference have been making deeper and deeper runs in the NCAA tournament. The most recent of these teams was last year’s Wichita State Shockers; they made it all the way to the final four before losing to eventual champions Louisville. The Shockers have taken that momentum into this season as they have just finished their regular season undefeated. If Wichita State can win the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, they will go into the NCAA tournament with an unblemished record, but some think this might not even be enough for a one seed, let alone the overall no. 1 seed.
The college basketball landscape has changed a lot since the NBA instituted the one-and-done rule requiring all players entering the draft to be one year removed from high school before they are eligible. This rule has helped the smaller schools be able to have continuation in their rosters from year to year, unlike the larger schools who are recruiting blue chip high school players who are just going to attend the school for a year and then go on to the NBA. The recent tournament runs of teams like Wichita State and Butler have shown how this rule has created much more parity in college basketball. This parity has made the debate of whether the Shockers deserve a no. 1 seed all the more intriguing.
There are some experts who still hold on to the notion that the major conference teams are the only teams deserving of a no. 1 seed because of their strength of schedule compared to the lesser conferences. This has been brought into question considering the growing weakness of the bottom half of the major conferences. Take Florida’s schedule, for example. They play in the SEC, which is considered one of the major conferences, and the bottom half of that conference can be compared equally to the bottom half of the Missouri Valley conference, which is not considered a major conference and is where Wichita State plays.
The third to last place team in the SEC is Auburn, which currently has a record of 13-14 and is ranked 164 in the RPI rankings, which is the ranking system the tournament selection committee uses. Compare that to the third to last place team in the Missouri Valley Conference Drake, which currently has a record of 15-15 and is ranked 159 in the RPI. While the second best team in the SEC is far better than the second best team in the MVC, the bottom halves of the conferences are comparable and the bottom half of any conference is where top teams are getting most of their wins.
Times have changed in college basketball. The decision the tournament selection committee makes in regard to Wichita State’s seed will show if they are embracing that change or if they will continue to reward large conference teams because they have the brand. Last year, the overall no. 1 seed was given to a small conference team in Gonzaga, but this year the Shockers have an even better case for being the overall no. 1. The problem is, Wichita is not being given the same respect as last year’s Gonzaga team even though they have not lost. They also face the issue that a lot of the teams in the rankings have: marketable NBA talent such as Arizona’s Aaron Gordon, Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins and Duke’s Jabari Parker.
Wichita State will begin their conference tournament as the no. 2 team in the country, but will be vying for the overall no. 1 seed in the tournament once selection Sunday comes around. If the team happens to lose in the MVC tournament, their case for the overall no. 1 seed will take a major hit, but if they win it and remain undefeated, the debate will continue to rage on.
Commentary by Max Petkevicius