Fred VanVleet, Ka'Darryl Bell

Criticize Wichita State if you must, but appreciate what we’re witnessing

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source: AP
AP

We witnessed college basketball history on Tuesday night.

You might not have noticed it happened, but it certainly did happen.

No. 2 Wichita State — the most over-analyzed team in the country — moved to 30-0 with yet another dominating win in the Missouri Valley, this one coming by a final margin of 69-49 at Bradley. It’s the first time in the history of our great sport that any team has ever gone 30-0 in the regular season. That record could be bested on Saturday, when Wichita State hosts Missouri State in the regular season finale.

Last Saturday, the Shockers became the first team to be 29-0 since Illinois pulled off the feat in 2004-2005. They lost in their last regular season game to Ohio State. With a win next Saturday, the Shockers will become the first team to enter their conference tournament undefeated since St. Joseph’s did it in 2003-2004. They lost the opener to Xavier. If Gregg Marshall can somehow steer his team clear of any and all landmines during Arch Madness, Wichita State will become the first team to enter the NCAA tournament undefeated since UNLV did so in 1990-1991. They made it all the way to the Final Four before getting dropped by Bobby Hurley and Christian Laettner on the way to Coach K’s first title as the head coach at Duke.

The Shockers are 75% of the way to a perfect, 40-0 season. Many predicted that this would be the season that a program made a push to become the first undefeated team in college basketball since Bobby Knight and Indiana went an entire season unblemished in 1976.

But that was supposed to be Kentucky and their amazing recruiting class and seven first round draft picks. It wasn’t supposed to be a Wichita State team that lost a pair of starters off of a fluky run to the Final Four.

And yet, here we are, one month of perfect basketball away from a team winning 40 games in a college basketball season.

For a minute, let’s put aside the arguments about just how good this Wichita State team is. Anyone with half a brain will understand both sides. The Shockers are undefeated … but they’re still largely untested against elite teams. The win at Saint Louis is really impressive … but it’s also just a win at Saint Louis. They’ve beaten everyone that was willing to play them this season, they’re coming off of a run to the Final Four and hell if it’s their fault that the Missouri Valley’s also-rans just so happened to all be down the same year that Creighton left the league … but that simply doesn’t change the fact that they haven’t played anywhere near the schedule that power conference teams have.

That argument will get us nowhere, because neither side is going to back down. There’s no nuance. It’s not possible to say that Wichita State is really, really good while also saying that they wouldn’t make it through the Big 12 or Big Ten unscathed. You’re either a fan boy or a hater. There is no in-between, and twitter feed the last week has had to bear the brunt of the arguing.

There’s nothing wrong with the back-and-forth. Fans are, by nature, passionate and vocal. Journalists are, by profession, going to pick a side and stand by it.

But through the bickering, remember this: We are watching history happen.

No one has won the first 30 games of a season in 23 years. In the last 34 years, there have been exactly two teams that won every regular season game.

Wichita State is a fascinating story, one that we are watching unfold possession by possession.

So while you argue the merits of their resume and whether or not they deserve to be a No. 1 seed, be sure that it doesn’t cloud the fact that this team is making a run at perfection, at immortality in our sport.

Make sure you have a chance to enjoy the run along with them.

It may not happen for a very long time.

Cyclones add big man for 2017

LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 15:  Head coach Steve Prohm of the Murray State Racers shouts from the sidelines against the Colorado State Rams  during the second round of the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at KFC YUM! Center on March 15, 2012 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Iowa State secured its first commitment Wednesday of what will be a pivotal class of forwards in 2017.

KeyShawn Faezell of Mississippi committed to Steve Prohm and the Cyclones, he announced Wednesday.

“After praying to God to lead me in the right path and talking with my dad,” Faezell wrote, “I’ve decided to further my education and basketball career under coach Prohm at Iowa State University.”

Faezell, a 6-foot-9 consensus top-150 forward in the 2017 class, joins wing Terrence Lewis as the first two members of a class that figures to number at least six for ISU. The addition of Faezell is key because ISU will be losing three members of its frontcourt it will likely be leaning on heavily in 2015-16 in Deonte Burton, Merrill Holden and Darrell Bowie. A 2016 big man, Cameron Lard, has also yet to enroll in classes this fall due to academic issues, making Faezell’s commitment even more important should Lard be unable to get clearance.

“They need some people to come in and compete,” Feazell told the Ames Tribune. “I think I fit in the program.”

Prohm’s teams dating back to his Murray State days have always been guard-oriented and guard-heavy, but beginning to stack the roster with quality big men will be key as he looks to continue the Cyclones’ success in the Big 12, which includes a school-record five-straight NCAA tournament appearances.

BYU adds commit for 2019

Dave Rose
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BYU added a commitment from a high school senior this week, but the Cougars won’t be seeing him on campus until 2019.

Kolby Lee, a 6-foot-9 forward from Idaho, pledged to BYU on Monday evening, but won’t suit up until after serving a two-year mission for the Church of Latter Day Saints, according to the Deseret News.

“I had a great feeling about BYU, and I prayed about it,” Lee told the paper. “I just feel like it’s the right fit for me. It just seems right. It feels right.”

Lee chose BYU over offers from  Utah State, Boise State and UC Davis. He was rated a four-star prospect by ESPN and three by Scout.

His decision to forego immediately joining BYU certainly isn’t a new wrinkle for the Cougars, who routinely see their players either delay their initial eligibility or pause it mid-career while serving on missions.

Self pays freshman Jackson a major compliment

Josh Jackson, from Napa, Calif.,, dunks over Nancy Mulkey, from Cypress, Texas, as he competes in the slam dunk contest during the McDonald's All-American Jam Fest, Monday, March 28, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)
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Freshman phenom production under Bill Self has been something of a contentious topic. Many fault the coach, who has won one national title and 12-straight Big 12 championships, for not developing one-and-done talent to their fullest potential during their single-season stays in Lawrence. Cliff Alexander and Cheick Diallo are Exhibit 1-A and 1-B for this argument in recent years.

Whatever outside criticism there is (Andrew Wiggins did go No. 1 overall just 2 years ago, after all), Self isn’t shying away from hyping the latest freshman with big expectations to come to KU. When asked who the greatest athlete of all-time is at the school’s annual Tradition Night last week, Self had a simple, if tongue-and-cheek, response.

“I’ll say Josh Jackson,” Self said of the the 6-foot-8 shooting guard ranked No. 1 in his class, according to Lawrence Journal-World.

With others answering with the likes of Michael Jordan and Muhammed Ali, it’s pretty fair to say Self was playing to the crowd with the answer, but it’s still telling that he was willing to deliver such a sound bite, even if it was before a welcoming audience. Self didn’t try to seriously depress expectations for Wiggins, a player Jackson is often compared to, and it looks like he won’t for Jackson as well.

Jackson, though, won’t have the burden Wiggins had as there’s one of the country’s best backcourts in Frank Mason II and Devonte Graham to help shoulder the workload for the Jayhawks.

 

ACC non-commital on HB2 stance

John Swofford
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With North Carolina unwilling to rescind their controversial so-called bathroom bill, the NBA has withdrawn its All-Star Game from the state this year and numerous high-profile music acts have canceled performances as a result.

The ACC is declining to join them with a hard-line, or really any, position.

“We don’t want to damage our league with any premature decisions,” commissioner John Swofford said on The David Glenn Show. “We’ll just see how it plays out.”

The ACC, of course, has quite the presence in the state with North Carolina, N.C. State, Duke and Wake Forest all in the Tar Heel State. Swofford’s comments are sure to draw the interest of the LGBT community, which has roundly been critical of the bill, which requires people to use the bathroom which corresponds to the gender on their birth certificate, and has recently been active in college athletics, opposing the Big 12’s potential inclusion of BYU in its expansion plans over concerns of the Church of Latter Day Saints school’s honor code.

North Carolina’s bill has also drawn the eye of the NCAA, which is requiring potential championship sights to provide information on local anti-discrimination laws.

One of the loudest voices in the ACC, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, has come out against the law.

“It’s an embarrassing bill,” Coach K said last month.

The Champions Classic renewed through 2019

LAWRENCE, KS - FEBRUARY 27: Bill Self head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks claps for his team as they celebrate winning the Big 12 Conference Championship after they defeated Texas Tech Red Raiders 67-58 at Allen Fieldhouse on February 27, 2016 in Lawrence, Kansas. With the win, Kansas clinched its 12th straight conference championship. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images
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The Champions Classic is back, baby!!!

On Wednesday, the four schools that participate in the event — Kentucky, Duke, Kansas and Michigan State — announced that they have signed deals to extend the life of the doubleheader for another three years.

This is terrific news. The Champions Classic is always the best early-season event of the season, an annual double-header that always ends up putting together two of the best non-conference games in packed NBA arenas. This year, it features Duke, the consensus preseason No. 1 team in the country, squaring off with Kansas, who is a consensus top three team with the No. 1 freshman in the class, Josh Jackson, on their roster, in one game.

The other game? Kentucky, the third consensus top three team nationally, going up against Tom Izzo and Michigan State, who will be, at worst, a top 15 team in the preseason polls.

So yeah, we’re going to get a pair of sensational basketball games in Madison Square Garden on Nov. 15th. MSG also just so happens to be the best arena to watch a great neutral site basketball game.

It’s going to be awesome.

There’s only one possible way to make it better: turn it into a two-day event, with the winners squaring off for the Champions Classic title the following night.

Make it happen.

Anyway, here’s the schedule:

Nov. 14, 2017 (United Center, Chicago)
Kansas vs. Kentucky
Duke vs. Michigan State

Nov. 13, 2018 (Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis)
Michigan State vs. Kansas
Duke vs. Kentucky

Nov. 12, 2019 (Madison Square Garden, New York)
Kansas vs. Duke
Michigan State vs. Kentucky