Photo Credit: Mid-Major Madness
As of January of 2012, not many people would consider the Wichita State Shockers men’s basketball team anything more than a mid-major team that would need to win the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament championship to get into the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. That perspective did not change in March of 2012 either, when the Shockers, despite making it into the tournament as an at-large team, lost in first round of the 2012 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament to the Virginia Commonwealth (VCU) Rams by a score of 62-59 in just their (Wichita State’s) second tournament appearance since 1988.
That perspective did change in March of 2013. The Shockers once again got into the 2013 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament as an at-large bid, and they earned their first victory in the tournament since 1981 when they defeated the Pittsburgh Panthers in the first round by a score of 73-55. They then went on to defeat the #1 seed Gonzaga Bulldogs in the second round by a score of 76-70, and they defeated the La Salle Explorers by a score of 72-58 in the Sweet Sixteen. Then, with a berth in their first Final Four since 1965 on the line, the Shockers shined their brightest in a 70-66 win over the Ohio State Buckeyes. They did, unfortunately, lose in the Final Four to the eventual national champion #1 overall seed Louisville Cardinals in a close game that ended with a score of 72-68.
Now the Wichita State Shockers were a “household name” type of program, and that did not stop in April of 2013 following their Final Four loss to Louisville. In March of 2014, the Shockers took an undefeated 34-0 record into the 2014 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament as a #1 seed, only to beat upset in the second round by the eventual national runner-up Kentucky Wildcats by a score of 78-76. In March of 2015, the Shockers were once again in the 2015 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, and they upset the in-state rival Kansas Jayhawks in the second round by a score of 78-65. They went on to lose to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish by a score of 81-70 in the Sweet Sixteen. In March of 2016, the Shockers were in the 2016 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament as one of the “First Four”. They won two games before bowing out in the second round in a 65-57 loss against the Miami (Florida) Hurricanes.
Even since 2013, Wichita State always seems to be in the mix in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, despite being in a mid-major conference and not playing an extremely challenging schedule. In fact, their nine tournament game victories since the 2013 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is a smaller amount than that of only four teams. Those four teams are the Louisville Cardinals (11 victories), the Duke Blue Devils (11), the Wisconsin Badgers (11), and the Kentucky Wildcats (10).
The Shockers are also one of only five teams that has won at least one tournament game in each NCAA men’s basketball tournament since 2013. The other four teams are the North Carolina Tar Heels, the Kansas Jayhawks, the Gonzaga Bulldogs, and the Oregon Ducks. It is simply not safe to ignore the Shockers come March Madness, even though some of their key players over the past few seasons such as guards Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet as well as forward Cleanthony Early are no longer on the team.
Why is it not safe to ignore them? Well, there are currently nine teams in the NCAA with fewer than 5 losses that are averaging more than 81.7 points per game. Those teams are the California-Los Angeles (UCLA) Bruins, the Kentucky Wildcats, the North Carolina Tar Heels, the North Carolina-Wilmington (UNCW) Seahawks, the Gonzaga Bulldogs, the Creighton Bluejays, the Florida State Seminoles, the Kansas Jayhawks, and the Shockers.
The Shockers, however, are the only team of those nine that does not have a single player averaging more than 28.3 minutes per game, and their highest player in terms of minutes, freshman guard Landry Shamet, is averaging just 25.3 minutes per game. They are also the only team of those nine that does not have a single player averaging more than 15.5 points per game, and their highest scorer, sophomore forward Markis McDuffie, is averaging just 12.2 points per game.
So why can you not sleep on the Shockers? The answer lies in their depth. Despite being the only team without star players in various categories like points per game and playing time, the Shockers have more depth than any of these teams. They are the only team on this list that has 10 players averaging more than 4.0 points per game, and 10 of their players are averaging over 4.7 points per game. When the 2017 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament rolls around, depth is going to be key for teams that think they have a legitimate chance at making a deep run, and the Shockers have depth on a scale that no other team performing at their level has.
All of these facts and figures put together make the Wichita State Shockers, once again, a team to watch come March Madness. Sleep on them at your own risk, but I personally would not recommend sleeping on them at all.