As the season approaches, Mid-Major Madness will be taking a closer look at its preseason Power 15 teams.
1. Wichita State Shockers
It is hard to find a team over the past three seasons that has had more success than Wichita State. Sure, there is no banner hanging in Koch Arena stating that the Shockers were National Champions, but the accomplishments outside of a title are hard to beat.
A Final Four in 2013, coming from the 9-seed; an undefeated regular season in 2014; and a win over rival Kansas in the Round of 32 last year stand as major signposts for this squad. With most teams playing outside of the power conferences, just one of these accomplishments would be followed by a few down seasons, but not at Wichita State.
The Shockers have replaced key pieces of each of those teams and this season will be no different as Gregg Marshall -- a key piece who has chosen to stay despite the success -- has to replace his top interior player (Darius Carter) and the best defender on the team (Tekele Cotton).
Marshall will add Kansas-transfer Conner Frankamp halfway through the year, adding depth to his already formidable backcourt featuring two of the best guards in the game. Inside he goes a long way to replacing Carter with Cleveland State transfer Anton Grady. Grady has struggled with staying healthy for much of his career, but showed last season why he was so highly regarded every season for the Vikings. Grady brings some tough interior defense, and should be able to replace the rebounding that Carter provided and more for the Shockers.
And not the the cupboard was bare for Marshall in Wichita. Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker provide one of the best starting backcourts in the country. Evan Wessel's presence will be continue to be a big defensive help for the Shockers, and Rashard Kelly will step in to take a bigger role this season.
This is a lineup with the makings of another Missouri Valley title, and possibly run off another string of wins that has the country standing up to take notice. That run will include a rematch of last season's great matchup with Utah, and include Tulsa, USC, and Seton Hall. The list may not be as impressive as in year's past, so the Shockers will need to make sure to take care of every opportunity to add to their resume for what should be another March run.
Within the league, the Shockers are still the class, but will face a deeper conference this season than in year's past with Evansville returning everyone from a year ago, plus strong Illinois State, Loyola, and Northern Iowa teams. It may be difficult to hold the damage to just a single blemish in the league this season.
Wichita State should still be the team everyone is looking at to represent the Missouri Valley in the NCAA Tournament, and deliver another case for picking them into the second weekend. By March, this team will be another of the Shocker machines that seems almost unbeatable when it steps onto the court.
There are some question marks, especially when you look at the frontcourt's ability to provide quality minutes should Grady get in trouble. But Marshall pieced together a rotation last year that saw every key component see important time on the floor. Someone we least expect will likely step up and be the star 6th man for this team.
See you in March, Wichita State. No doubt about it.