The numbers aren’t in Wichita State’s favor. One top-50 win, two top-100 victories. An RPI of 40.
And, yet, it would be an injustice if the NCAA Tournament selection committee opts to pass on them if the Shockers fail to win the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.
They will enter the MVC Tournament 27-4, having shared the regular-season title with a very good Illinois State team. They’ve lost once since Dec. 17. After losing three starters, two of whom — Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet — are in the NBA, coach Gregg Marshall had to remake his team, forced to rely on inexperience and youth. It struggled early on, which is why Wichita State’s résumé is somewhat lacking.
It failed to take advantage of the power-conference portion of its schedule, going 3-3, losing to No. 8 Louisville — the only ranked opponent the Shockers have faced — Michigan State and Oklahoma State, while beating SEC punching bag LSU, rebuilding Oklahoma and ACC also-ran Clemson.
But also consider the Shockers’ four losses. Louisville, which beat Wichita State by just 10, is a Final Four contender. Michigan State is a tournament team, and edged them by five. Oklahoma State is going dancing also and conference-rival Illinois State is no slouch.
Few teams are as good in November as they are now. If Wichita State could play those six power-conference teams today, would it go better than 3-3? It’s pretty likely.
The Shockers shouldn’t be penalized because the MVC doesn’t offer opportunities to beat top-100 teams outside of Illinois State.
Statistically, Wichita State ranks among the best teams in the country. It is 19th in scoring (82.5), 12th in rebounding (40.5), 12th in assists (17.3), and 17th in points allowed (63.0). It is shooting 40 percent from 3-point range as a team. The analytics-based website, KenPom.com, ranks Wichita State 10th in the nation. The Associated Press has the Shockers 25th.
There was another perennial mid-major power that took a while to find itself last year. Gonzaga, you may recall, was grossly under-seeded. It hammered power-conference foes Seton Hall and Utah in the NCAA Tournament and nearly took down Syracuse in the Sweet 16.
Hopefully, Wichita State wins the MVC Tournament. An NCAA Tournament without them wouldn’t be including the best 68 teams.
For the second straight season, Georgetown will finish eighth or lower in the Big East and likely fail to reach the postseason. For the second straight season, a team with NCAA Tournament-caliber talent will significantly underwhelm.
Coach John Thompson III is feeling the heat — there was a fire JTIII sign at the Garden during the Hoyas loss to St. John’s in which they committed 22 turnovers — and fans have chanted for his head during home games.
The last time a Georgetown coach failed to win 20 games in back-to-back seasons, in 2001-03, it cost Craig Esherick his job. While Thompson’s body of work isn’t bad — eight NCAA Tournaments, a Final Four and a 278-148 record in 13 seasons — this will be the third time he’s missed the NCAA Tournament in four years, and the program isn’t just trending downward, it’s taking a nose dive.
Georgetown isn’t even announcing JTIII’s name at pregame introductions at the Verizon Center. His father, legendary former Georgetown coach John Thompson, can only save his job for so long. If you can’t introduce your head coach at home games, he probably shouldn’t be your coach.
Beware of Butler
It’s easy to overlook Butler. It doesn’t have any big stars. It isn’t flashy. It just won’t beat itself, making the right decisions. But the Bulldogs will be a March factor — they’re a second-weekend team capable of creating problems for anyone.
If there was any doubt, that point was driven home this past week, as Butler snapped Villanova’s 48-game win streak at the Pavilion, and then won at Xavier, cementing its spot behind Villanova in the Big East. The reemergence of junior star Kelan Martin, who averaged 23.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in the two victories, gives Butler the go-to scorer it needs.
No. 10 Duke at No. 8 North Carolina, Saturday, 8:15 p.m.
The two archrivals are headed in opposite directions. North Carolina has won four in a row, — overwhelming No. 7 Louisville on Wednesday — and can clinch an outright ACC crown Monday against No. 18 Virginia. Duke, meanwhile, is coming off an 0-2 week, having lost at Syracuse and Miami, and star guard Grayson Allen is battling an ankle injury. Visiting Chapel Hill won’t help matters.
The Bruins have won seven straight games, and have defeated No. 4 Arizona and No. 6 Oregon in that span, performing like a viable Final Four contender. Leading the nation in points scored (91.6) and assists (21.7), fifth-ranked UCLA is arguably the best offensive team in the country, but it has also been much improved at the defensive end. It has allowed 71.5 points in this streak, four points below the season average, and held Arizona and Oregon to a combined 60 second-half points in the wins. You can’t just outscore the opposition in March.
Even the most die-hard Providence fans didn’t expect a fourth straight NCAA Tournament bid, not after losing stars Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil to the NBA. The Friars were picked to finish ninth in the Big East, after all. Nevertheless, Cooley has worked his magic, developing Kyron Cartwright into one of the most improved players in the nation and getting every ounce out of this group. After consecutive wins over No. 22 Butler, Xavier, No. 23 Creighton and Marquette, Providence is in position to remarkably finish fourth in the Big East.
Regression to the mean has come to College Park. Maryland was one of the sport’s big surprises through January, looking like a potential top-four seed despite losing as much talent as anyone. But February revealed this team’s warts. The Terps lost five of seven and this week they got overwhelmed at home by Minnesota and Iowa, losing by a combined 28 points. Freshmen Justin Jackson and Kevin Huerter have hit a wall, and the season-ending injury to center Michal Cekovsky (broken ankle) has created a depth problem in the paint.
For the suggestion, by ESPN’s “Bracketology” expert, that there should be a requirement for teams to finish .500 in conference to be eligible for the NCAA Tournament. This would only weaken the field. There is a committee for a reason — let the members do their job. Not all conferences are equal. An across-the-board qualification doesn’t make sense. Why attempt to fix — and in the process likely harm — what so obviously isn’t broken?
1: Kansas, Villanova, North Carolina, Oregon
2: Gonzaga, Louisville, UCLA, Kentucky
3: Arizona, Baylor, Butler, West Virginia
4: Florida State, Notre Dame, Florida, Purdue
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