Monday, March 3, 2014

Doubting the Shockers? Don’t

By Jean Neuberger

You've probably heard: Wichita State is 31-0.

And yet, few teams, if any, are as underrated as the Shockers are.

Sure, Wichita is undefeated and ranked second in the country. They've also had to endure nonstop criticism from those who feel Wichita is simply a farce.

Their conference is weak.
They haven't played anyone.
Kansas or Syracuse could go undefeated playing Wichita's schedule.

Go ahead. Doubt the Shockers.

Doubt a team that reached the Final Four last year and gave the eventual national champions their toughest game of the season. They didn't play any blockbuster non-conference games last year, yet there they were in Atlanta when it was all said and done. Ask Rick Pitino which hurdle was the toughest during Louisville's title run last year. Then realize what Wichita has done is simply demonstrate that last year wasn't a fluke.

Doubt a team that plays a deep bench. Nine Shockers average over 12 minutes a game. Of the current top 10 teams in the AP poll, only Louisville can match that statistic.

Doubt their schedule. Doubt a team that's faced everyone's best shot, that's been the circled date by nearly everyone they've faced. Everyone has a clunker game. Syracuse lost to Boston College. Michigan State laid a complete egg against Illinois. Wichita had one too. The Shockers were down 19 in the second half to Missouri State. When adversity hit them though, they hit back and prevailed in the end.

No team has carried a target on their backs for more games this season than Wichita State. They're the only undefeated team left. Doesn't that demand respect? Shouldn't that lock a top seed? Why was there any discussion? Say Kansas played Wichita's schedule. Say Duke played it. Would they be favored every game? Definitely. But Kansas also inexplicably lost last season to TCU. Duke bowed out of the Big Dance to Lehigh just a few years ago. Upsets happen. The Shockers fought through it.

Doubt Gregg Marshall; who didn't branch off from a successful coaching tree. He's had to do it from scratch. Winthrop took a chance on him and he answered by bringing them their first seven trips to the Big Dance. Then the Shockers called. He struggled during his first couple of seasons while he recruited and built his foundation. The results speak for themselves.

Doubt Ron Baker. He was good last year during their March run. Since then, he's only become a better all-around shooter and now averages in double digits. His assist to turnover ratio has soared. He's stolen the ball more this season while fouling less.

Doubt Fred VanVleet. Given huge shoes to fill with the departure of Malcolm Armstead, VanVleet rose to the occasion, so much so that he's a finalist for the Naismith Award. Since last year, VanVleet has doubled his minutes while nearly tripling his points per game. His field goal percentage is better. He shoots over 40 percent from three-point range. Last year, he was a 72 percent free throw shooter. This year? 83 percent. His assist to turnover ratio? Last year: 2.3:1.2. This year? 5.3:1:3. Insane growth in very little time.

In 1994, Arkansas was a one seed in the Midwest Regional. They were ranked at the top for most of the season and were closely followed by President Clinton. Yet, Nolan Richardson was able to convince his squad that they weren't being respected. They won the national title.

Wichita State may not win the national title. They may be out in the Sweet 16. But, as a final thought, that same theme of no respect is being delivered to an undefeated team, coming off a Final Four season last year, with the reputation of "playing angry."

Doubt the Shockers? I won't.

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