The best college basketball team isn’t supposed to be a squad from the Missouri Valley conference. Not when there are major college athletic programs that invest millions of dollars in state of the art facilities and recruit all the potential NBA talent from around the country. Perhaps that’s why the Wichita State Shockers remain ranked just number 2 in the country, despite being the only undefeated regular season team since 1991! Yes, their schedule was softer than most major conference basketball teams, but wasn’t Wichita State the Cinderella team of the 2013 NCAA tournament, who shed their number 9 seed and beat both top-ranked Gonzaga and 7th ranked Ohio State to reach the Final Four? It’s not like the Shockers haven’t played (and beaten) anyone. So could they actually finish the job this year and win a National Title?
Of course they can. In fact, they should be coming into this tournament as definite favorites and a number 1 seed! But that seed really means little once the games begin, especially for title contenders. All that matters in the next game, and winning it. And as we have seen over the last four months, the Shockers are really good at doing that.
Railing off 34 wins this season, the team is led by the same core group that performed that tremendous March run last year. Ron Baker, Cleanthony Early, Fred VanVleet, and Tekele Cotton are each producing over 10 points per game, and have the talent and awareness to beat anyone. Rebounds and assists are spread out amongst the team who click better than most, even those major conference teams laden with NBA prospects. What is most inspiring, however, is the their ability to generate turnovers and steals on defense, and their ability to turn those plays into points. With their defensive fortitude, Wichita State can handle anyone.
But it will definitely be interesting to see how they fare in the tournament. They haven’t played a nationally ranked team all year, and have yet to really be put to the test. They’ve hardly even played any close games, especially in the last few months of the season! What will happen when they face a Duke or a Syracuse or a Florida? Can they handle the pressure of a tight game? Will they be able to adapt from playing against teams they can breeze past, or will the tough opponents send the Shockers into, dare I say, shock?
Needless to say, the incredible Final Four run of 2013 should be a major point of strength and experience for this team. They clearly learned that they could handle anyone, and they still have that burning desire to win, as evidenced by their impressive 34-0 record. Whether or not they complete the miracle and earn a shocking National Title for Wichita State, the team has competed at the top level for the past 2 seasons and is fully deserving of whatever glory comes their way. While predicting a champion is always a tough and tricky science, especially with 68 teams to choose from, I think that if there’s a strong bet in this event that will surely have the casual fans rooting for them, it’s Wichita State. Let’s see if these guys can shock the world once again!
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