For the first time in nearly two years, No. 8 Wichita State has landed a regular season win over a top 25 team.
The Shockers went into Waco on Saturday afternoon and knocked off No. 16 Baylor, 69-62, behind 17 points from Connor Frankamp, and they did it despite the fact that Markis McDuffie, the second-best player on the roster, has yet to return from an offseason foot injury.
And that’s the win that they needed to prove themselves.
I wrote a column earlier this year asking whether or not Wichita State deserved to be in the conversation as the best team in America, and while that column has not aged particularly well – the best team in America is either Michigan State or Duke – the responses that it elicited were telling.
Most notably, what I kept hearing back was that we can’t call Wichita State the best, or one of the best, teams in the country when they haven’t actually proven it by beating one of the best teams in the country. Prior to Saturday, the best win that the post-Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker Shockers landed came in the opening round of the 2016-17 tournament against No. 7 seed Dayton.
They play teams tough, there’s no question about that. They probably should have beaten Notre Dame in the Maui Invitational just last week. Their computer numbers tell us that those close losses aren’t a fluke.
But computer numbers and moral victories only count for so much.
At some point, the Shockers needed to start collecting wins like this, road wins against top 20 opponents.
On Saturday they did, and they did it without the help of their second-best player.
Baylor, however, is a different story.
The Bears have now lost back-to-back games to Wichita State and Xavier, and in the process lost Terry Maston, who averages 11.7 points and 7.7 boards, for the next month with a hand injury. Without him o the floor, the Bears’ offense has labored. He’s the second-best weapon that Baylor has on that end of the floor and he’s the most dangerous front court player; Jo Lual-Acuil scores more than Maston, but Maston is a guy that can actually create his own shot.
Without Maston in the mix, Baylor’s offense is going to struggle.
And while losing to Xavier and Wichita State isn’t exactly a good thing, losses to potential Final Four teams are not exactly going to kill Baylor’s at-large hopes.
They’ll be fine.