And so we are here, on the verge of the NCAA Tournament, with Wichita State sitting at 34-0, the undefeated champions of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.
Congratulations Shockers, you have made this entertaining. Whatever happens from here on out is gravy, although I don't know if anyone associated with this team will be satisfied with anything less than what Wichita State accomplished last season.
No team since UNLV in 1991 has made it through to the NCAA Tournament without a loss. No team has ever had to have 34 games in order to do it either.
We think about that UNLV team that was so much better than everyone else, not just in their league, but in the entire country. And then a little team known as Duke knocked them off.
That is why you can't take anything that happens in the NCAA Tournament and use it for an excuse against this Wichita State team. Upsets happen; the NCAA Tournament is a crap shoot; you can't predict sports.
Ask any team that lost to Wichita State last year in the Tournament what they thought of the middle of the pack seeded Shockers. They will likely tell you that they thought they were a good team, but that they would beat them. Yet none did until Louisville came back on them to win.
Yes, came back on them. Even the eventual National Champions were in trouble against this Wichita State team, or rather a version of this team, one that pales in comparison to what takes the floor now in the gold and black.
This team beat everyone on its schedule, which is the only thing you can ask of them. They didn't make any excuses for themselves. They wanted to play better teams; they didn't get that chance, thanks to upsets, or grudges, or just fear that another team from the state of Kansas might win a game and attract some recruits. Shockers fans know who these teams are. They want them on the slate. Perhaps it will eventually happen, maybe because a committee sitting in a conference room in a hotel decide it should be so.
Once the NCAA Tournament begins, there can be no more excuses from anyone that still doubts this team, one made of a combination of skills and talent that can stand with any of the big time teams out there.
They have Fred Van Vleet, the best point guard in America and the last one you will hear mentioned in that discussion. Because no one wants to believe that a sophomore that is his height and at Wichita State can be this good. Which he is.
They have Ron Baker, who just like the guy who used to run around in the MVC with a blond shock of hair, comes from a small town in the same state as his school, and that was overlooked by everyone. He didn't get any offers from any of the big state schools, not even to come and sit at the end of the bench (where he wouldn't have sat for long). He is showing them now.
They have Cleanthony Early, who just does everything. He can score if that is what is needed. He can pass if you would rather have that. Or maybe some rebounding? Yeah, there is that too. He is the one player whose name everyone knows, and that gets on all the lists when you ask about the Shockers. The scary thing is that he might not be their best player, and even he might admit that.
Wichita State has trounced everything thrown at them. With the regular season finished there's still plenty more basketball to be played, but the Shockers have already etched their names in history.
They have Tekele Cotton, who will be the guy who defend the best player on the other team, and cause the announcers to forget he is playing. That is because Cotton is probably the most tenacious defender in the country, and one that should be recognized nationally for it. He won't be, because some of the things he does don't appear in stat sheets. He is so good that the player he guards doesn't get the ball, so he can't get steals or blocks. And now he is starting to shoot better. Be scared.
And then there is the bench behind these guys, who all come together with the right skills at the right time.
They are just going to keep winning people. And there is a simple reason why they can: they want it more that any of those teams.
When you listen to this team talk, or Gregg Marshall talk, you hear it in what they say. You see it in every act they do on the court. There are no smiles during games. There is no acknowledgement that you might have played AAU ball with the kid in the other jersey. There is no fraternizing with the enemy.
This is a team that has a single purpose each and every day that it takes the floor, whether it is in practice, or a game, or just walking out to get in that extra shooting practice. They want to win more than anyone else that plays the game.
If you have been paying attention, or watching any other basketball, you have to have noticed this.
Thirty-one was the first goal, then 34, and now it will be 40. It will just be 35, 36, 37, 38 and 39 along the way.
Remember when we all made fun of Kentucky at the beginning of the season when they made shirts commemorating the season they thought they would have. That is hubris.
Wichita State doesn't have hubris; they have results. And those results show they deserve not just a No. 1 seed, but the respect of everyone that watches college basketball.
It doesn't matter who they played. They won, pure and simple, every time.
And it will continue.