As impressive as the Wichita State undefeated season and MVC double title are, it’s just hard to feel 100% confident about their seeding as a number one team, even after the Final Four from last season, simply based on the fact that they faced mediocre opposition at best throughout this whole season.
Some mid-major programs schedule some tough games before going on their conference schedule, but not Wichita State. Maybe teams didn’t want to play them, but it doesn’t matter. RPI, SOS and all the advanced metrics people want to use make a difference, and playing for a weaker conference means Wichita State, until proven otherwise, might not be as good as their record.
Beating Indiana State for the second time this season, 83-69 to claim the tournament title, is impressive. Their road to the title – winning three games by an average of 20.4 points per game while dominating in the paint and doing an outstanding job in scoring off team’s turnovers, was impressive. But once again, judging a dominant MVC team is hard to do when you put them up against teams that made it out of the Big Ten and the Big 12.
The Shockers are the 18th team to make it into the NCAA tournament after an undefeated season. Seven of those have won the title: 4 UCLA teams, joined by North Carolina, Indiana and San Francisco. Two more have finished as runner-ups, two others lost in the Final Four and six more didn’t even make it that far.
We can go back to Gonzaga of last season. A great season in their own conference, but beating St. Mary’s twice or three times a year just doesn’t give you the right kind of indication when it comes to the open field, on nuetral courts, with the nation watching and not just a small section of the Midwest or Northwest.
There are some great players on this Wichita State team, with Cleanthony Early (not having the best of games with only 10 points), Fred VanVleet and Tekele Cotton. Maybe they’re actually better than the team that made it so far last year, and it’s that achievement that gives these Shockers a bit more benefit of the doubt than others before them from a similar status would have gotten. People treat Butler differently than they do Gonzaga because of what they did in 2010 and 2011, despite being a mid-major and facing weaker competition all year long.
But it’s always about proving yourself against the best, and the regular season that provides these kind of hurdles for the “blue bloods” and teams in tougher confrences that makes it less of a questionable call to rank them number one, overall or in a seeding, hurts Wichita State when it comes to the belief factor. If they are that good, we’ll see it very soon, when the tournament finally begins. But it’s hard to argue against the skepticism creeping in from every corner of the room when a team from such a weak conference does so well, and people are asked to buy into their claim to be national titles.