There is an interesting phenomena going on in the college basketball world currently. The only team who is still undefeated, the Wichita State Shockers, and who are deserving of the number one ranking in most of the poll ranking systems are not ranked in the top spot.
The major argument against them being ranked number one in the country is their strength of schedule. This is a valid argument. Their overall strength of schedule is ranked 100 out of all 351 teams in college basketball. According to CBS the Shockers have only played two games against teams ranked in the RPI top fifty. They only played three games against the top 6 conferences in college basketball and the games were against some of the weaker teams in those conferences. Also, another huge problem is that their in-conference schedule isn’t helping. They are in the Missouri Valley Conference, which only has two teams with more than 20 wins, and only four teams above .500. Their best wins include a win at RPI number 12 Saint Louis and a neutral site win against RPI number 37 Brigham Young University. However, they also have 22 wins against teams ranked RPI 100 or below. To put this into perspective, Syracuse University (one of the top teams in the country) has played 15 teams ranked in the RPI top 100.
The argument against Wichita State is valid. A team that is number one in the country should have to prove themselves. Wichita State has only done that once this season, beating Saint Louis at home which gave them their only home loss of the season. The best team they have played all season from a power conference is RPI ranked 59 Tennessee, who are currently have 16 wins and 11 losses and are not even considered to make it to the NCAA tournament in March. Many people fault Wichita State for this. College Basketball schedules are very fluid and can be created to be as hard as the team would like to make it. By that logic, many people think Wichita State should have scheduled harder teams. However, they were unable to do that. The best team in Kansas, the Kansas University Jayhawks, refuses to play them because a loss for the Jayhawks would mean they would take a huge recruiting hit in Kansas. Many other teams won’t play them due to what the potential loss would do their tournament resumes.
That being said, what Wichita State is doing is rather amazing. With only one game left in their season, they are 30 and 0. Their last game is against Missouri State, which is in no way a gimme game for the Shockers, as they had to mount a comeback victory against the Bears earlier this season. However, I have faith that they can pull out a victory and become the 25th team to go undefeated during the regular season. That’s right, only 24 other teams have gone undefeated throughout the regular season. The last team to do it was the 2004 Saint Joseph’s Hawks, who went 27-0. Going undefeated throughout a season means you have to find a way to win all of your out of conference games, which is a challenge in itself. On top of that though, you have to beat everyone in your conference, sometimes more than once. That means you have to be on top of your game every single game. Anywhere, any time, any situation. You have to be able to battle adversity and be able to come back from being down. You have to maintain leads and beat the teams you are supposed to beat. You also have to beat teams that you aren’t supposed to beat.
Wichita State also has the talent to beat any team in the country. They made the Final Four last year with four of their five current starters. All of these players are a year older and more experienced. Their back court is one of the best in the country. They have the experience. They have the skill. They should be ranked number one in the country. On top of it all, with their win on Tuesday night, they become the first team ever to go 30 and 0 in the regular season.
Florida, the current number one, lost to two difficult teams, Wisconsin and Connecticut. However, besides Kentucky, the SEC is absolutely horrendous. It is possible that only two teams from the SEC, Kentucky and Florida, make the tournament this year. Depending on how Indiana State finishes, that could by the same as the Missouri Valley. Does that mean Wichita State deserves the number one spot more than the Gators? No. But could the argument be made? Yes.
Another team considered the number one team are the Wildcats from Arizona. They were undefeated until conference play, where they played and lost to two really weak teams. They play in the Pac 12, which is a conference as weak as the SEC. What makes them any more deserving than Wichita when they have two losses? Yes, the argument could be made against either of them, but I don’t think having Wichita at number one is a crazy idea.
The purpose of this post was to point out Wichita State has a serious chance to do something amazing here. I’m not sure if they are going to be able to win the national championship, but they have a very good chance to do it. They have a strong, experienced, and capable team and if they are given a good enough draw, they will have a really strong chance to win it all. Don’t discredit the Shockers in March. If you happen to do a pool for fun up here at Penn State, mark them down as a team that could make a run deep in the tournament.