ESPN gets a lot of things wrong, but it's still nice to see the Shockers getting more attention from national media as the opportunity to be this year's team to "represent the masses." Today, Outside the Lines invited Bob Lutz from the Wichita Eagle and Southern Illinois head coach Barry Hinson (because, of course) as part of a discussion about the college basketball landscape and where the Shockers fit into it.
Some of the talk centered around whether these undefeated teams (mostly Wichita State) are deserving of a #1 seed right now, and whether or not their ability to stay undefeated has any bearing on that. All were in agreement (as they should be, I think) that the Shockers' body of work is that of a top-line team, and that their need to win out was more due to the fact that a loss now would come against some decidedly ugly teams (in terms of RPI). Some specific quotes:
Lutz, on the buzz around Wichita State, the impact of last season's success, and who will be the star as the regular season winds down:
Part of the issue here is that I don't think they get enough credit for their Final Four run just last year. You should get more run for something like that than the Shockers seem to be getting... (Fred) VanVleet, (Cleanthony) Early, (Ron) Baker and (Tekele) Cotton all played key roles, and they entered this season highly ranked. It's a down year for the Missouri Valley Conference, but it's not a down year for Wichita State, the win at St. Louis is certainly unique. It's hard to criticize; they're unbeaten, and they're unbeaten for a reason... Cleanthony's really played well since the conference season has started. He's a senior, so I think he's the main guy, but I think with all the returning guys - especially Tekele Cotton as a defensive specialist who has learned how to score, they can get you in a number of ways.
Coach Hinson, on what has impressed him the most about the Shockers this season:
When Bob talked about the four guys that are back, that have been in the fire and been to the Final Four, I think that speaks volumes. I know they played well against us, and they've played well 26 times this year... The thing that impressed me more than anything - I said it last night - they're talented everywhere on the floor. They remind me of the rover in softball, a guy that can play any position, and when one guy's off, another guy steps up. They are phenomenal at rebounding the basketball, and what they do after it.
And ESPN's Andy Katz and Jay Bilas, on whether better to lose a game at some point:
Katz: Coaches will say (a single loss) will get their team's attention, but nobody wants to lose. A great example was San Diego State last night, having to go up against Wyoming, a very good team up in Laramie. They had been sort of wobbling and having to make these comebacks, but had not lost since Arizona way back in early November. I think that definitely affected them.
Bilas: No (value in losing prior to the tourney). It's always easier to get focused after a loss than it is to keep it after a win. But once the tournament starts everyone is 0-0, so it doesn't matter what your record is.
I found it a bit funny that Hinson credited their rebounding, since they were a little less than awesome at it last night, but he and Lutz are right - Wichita State is one of the deepest and most versatile teams in the country, not just in the mid-major rankings. That, combined with all of their most important players having experienced March Madness already, will go a long way towards tournament success.
I think Bilas' comment is of note as well - I'm sure some would agree that it's a challenge to stay focused when you're winning, especially against inferior teams. To me that makes the Shockers' run even more impressive - they've had numerous opportunities for let-down games and haven't allowed it to happen, which demonstrates a mental toughness throughout their lineup (likely coming from Marshall at the top) that will also serve them well.
Let's see them keep the streak going, not because it matters in the tournament, but because it gets great exposure for a "little" team that's great at what they do.