Thanks to a 10-23 shooting performance from beyond the arc and a 15-4 run to open the game, No. 19 Wichita State picked up a 68-55 win over Illinois State and clinched the outright Missouri Valley regular season title.
And while the title was more or less foregone conclusion once the Shockers knocked off Creighton in Omaha two weeks ago, it shouldn’t take away from anything that Wichita State was able to accomplish this season. They’ve won 15 of their 16 games since Creighton beat them on their home floor back on New Year’s Eve. Their only loss this calender year came in triple overtime against the third best team in the conference. That also happened to be the only loss that the Shockers suffered on the road in Missouri Valley play, which is about as impressive a feat as Wichita State will accomplish this season.
The Shockers are currently ranked eighth in the country according to Kenpom and are playing their best basketball at the right time. Their last five wins have come by an average of 18.2 ppg, and that streak includes going into Creighton and beating the Bluejays by 21 just a week before they went to Davidson for BracketBuster’s Weekend and knocked off the Wildcats by 17.
Its begs the question: just how far can Wichita State go in the NCAA Tournament. The answer? Far. Really far.
For all the talk about Creighton and how powerful their offense is, Wichita State actually ranks eighth in offensive efficiency according to Kenpom, just two spots behind the Bluejays. Gregg Marshall actually has his fastest team since 2003, and with a roster that has six players averaging between 8.8 ppg and 14.2 ppg, Marshall has a bevy of weapons at his disposal. Seven-footer Garrett Stutz leads the way in both the scoring and the rebounding department, but there are times were he is the only big man on the floor, which isn’t a bad thing; the Shockers go nine deep, but the top seven get the majority of those minutes. Of those seven, five are perimeter players capable and deserving of a starting spot. And with wings like Toure’ Murry and David Kyles, who are big enough to help down and rebound, and with Carl Hall providing some muscle mass off the bench, Marshall has a number of different lineups he can throw at an opponent.
Perhaps the key to that success has been experience. Everyone in the top seven in his rotation is either a junior or a senior. They’ve all had postseason success as well, as Wichita State is the reigning NIT champion.
Much of that can be said about Creighton as well, but where the Bluejays differ is on the defensive end of the floor. The Shockers are a strong defensive team. While they don’t force as many turnovers as would be ideal, they do force tough shots and they clean up the defensive glass. Creighton’s even worse when it comes to defensive play making — they are 337th in the country in turnovers forced — and they are no where near as good as Wichita State at forcing tough shots.
Luke Winn put the Shockers in his Magic Eye Ball column, saying this about Wichita State: “The Shockers aren’t just good for the Missouri Valley Conference this year; they’re the best mid-major of the entire efficiency era (2003-onward).”
We’ve had some good ones of late, as well. VCU and Butler made the final four last year. Butler made it the season before that. George Mason made their run in 2006.
How long will it take for the country to catch on?