The idea behind Wichita State’s move to the American Athletic Conference was to safeguard the Shockers from the perils of a one-bid league. After years in the Missouri Valley, which had been slipping into perennial one-bid status, Gregg Marshall’s program was looking for insulation from the fate that has befallen the like St. Mary’s, Murray State and Monmouth, whose regular-season success in recent years meant nothing after a conference-tournament stumble.
Wichita State has accomplished that by playing in the AAC this year, but the Shockers surely thought they’d be competing for a league championship down to the season’s final week, if not just winning the thing outright.
That’s not going as planned.
The Shockers lost Thursday at Temple, 81-79 in overtime, to suffer its third conference loss just one day into February and seemingly ceding the regular season title to Cincinnati, which remains perfect in league play.
It’s certainly far from the the end of the world for Wichita State, which will absolutely be among the field of 68 come Selection Sunday, but it sure is a bit of a bummer for two reasons.
The first is that the AAC race just got a lot less compelling. The Bearcats are 9-0 in the league and haven’t loss since back-to-back setbacks to Xavier and Florida in early December. They’re absolutely rolling, and now have a three-game cushion over the Shockers and Houston. Mick Cronin’s team giving back three games with Wichita State or the Cougars going perfect just isn’t a scenario that’s easy to picture right now. Cincy’s basically got this thing locked up more than a month before the finale regular season game.
The bigger bummer, though, is it really takes some juice out of what should have been national marquee, must-watch, appointment viewing of the two matchups still on the schedule between Wichita State and Cincinnati. Those two games, the first coming in Wichita on a prime-viewing Sunday afternoon and the second the final day of the regular season in the Queen City, will still be great basketball contests. The stakes will really only amount to NCAA tournament seeding, though. That’s sort of interesting, I suppose, for the Bearcats’ pursuit of a No. 1 seed, but still a disappointing top storyline in what should be a heavyweight battle that captures the country’s attention.
Wichita State is getting what it wanted from the AAC this season, but the college basketball viewing public isn’t getting much out of the deal, at least in the regular season.