Wichita State ripped through the regular season on its way to the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) title Sunday to reach an unprecedented 34-0, becoming the first Division I basketball program to take that many wins against zero losses into the NCAA Tournament. But whether Wichita State is a legitimate number one seed is likely to be debated ad nauseam leading up to March Madness.
Indeed, the Shockers appear to have a valid argument for a number one seed, in spite of all the detractors that say their dubious strength of schedule (121st in the nation), coupled with the fact that they play in the suspect MVC, should preclude Wichita State from one of the four top spots. Wichita State’s notable wins include a 13-point victory over a 23-win BYU team that made it to the conference championship game, a road win over Atlantic Ten Champion St. Louis, and a decisive victory over a Tennessee team that beat regular season ACC Champion Virginia by 35 points.
Pundits will undoubtedly point to a schedule that’s widely believed paltry enough for many power conference teams to have skated through unblemished. A pretty solid argument does exist for that side of the coin. In addition to an underwhelming non-conference schedule, five of the Missouri Valley Conference’s ten teams finished with sub .500 overall records and only three finished with winning conference records. And outside of the Shockers’ aforementioned three notable wins, there’s really no one to speak of. Alabama is the only other team they have faced from a formidable conference and the Tide finished the regular season 13-18.
All the questions and all the disrespect, however, only seem to fuel Wichita State. After winning the MVC Tournament 83-69 over Indiana State, the players were given championship T-shirts in an on-the-court celebration. In an insult almost too embarrassing for any sort of levity, the T-shirts named the Sycamores as the conference champions. Unfazed and undeterred from the celebration, though, players laughed and cut down the nets, dismissing what was ultimately one final act of dubiety as nothing more than a printing error. Senior F Chadrack Lufile may have best summed up his team’s sentiments about all the doubt when he tweeted, “Wolves do not fret over the opinions of sheep.”
Top seed or not, what can’t be disputed is how attractive a storyline this is. March Madness loves drama and, unlike major college football, the underdog really does have a shot. In that regard, the Shockers are made for this postseason. They are media darlings lying in wait, and are everyone’s favorite underdog even before Selection Sunday hits. So you can toss out all the analysis and all the stats. Whether or not Wichita State is a legitimate number one seed is kind of immaterial at this point. Unless a VCU or a Butler or some other team from an unheralded conference goes on an upset run, the Shockers will more than likely be the most rooted for and the most fun to watch team of the tournament.
Commentary by Rick Sarlat