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Recent struggles for top teams should help you appreciate No. 3 Wichita State

Feb 19, 2014, 11:09 PM EDT

source: Getty Images

David Banks/Getty Images

As we headed towards tip-off for the early games on Wednesday night, I couldn’t help but be … underwhelmed.

Five top 25 teams were tipping off at 7:00 p.m. ET and, on paper, all five should have won without breaking a sweat. No. 7 Cincinnati did just that, running away from Central Florida in the first half. It took No. 24 a little bit longer, but they eventually pulled away from Northwestern.

No. 1 Syracuse? They lost to Boston College in the Carrier Dome. BC had won just a single games against a Division I opponent since November entering the night.

No. 2 Florida? They needed the worst 20 seconds of basketball that you’ll see this season in order to hold off Auburn in Gainesville.

No. 10 Saint Louis at least was on the road when they were taken to overtime by Atlantic 10 cellar-dweller George Mason.

It’s not unusual to see top teams struggle as we enter the dog days of February. Arizona lost at Arizona State last Friday. Michigan State lost to Nebraska at home on Sunday, just hours before Villanova was blown out by Creighton. On Tuesday night, Kansas needed a last-second, miracle bucket from Andrew Wiggins to survive a game at Texas Tech.

It happens to everyone.

And it hasn’t happened to No. 3 Wichita State, at least not yet. They beat up on Loyola (IL), 88-74, on Wednesday.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that the competition that the Shockers are playing in this year’s version of the Valley is not what we’ve become accustomed to in that conference. It’s as bad as it has been in a long time.┬áThat said, it’s not like Boston College is a threat to make the Final Four. George Mason isn’t markedly better than Indiana State or Northern Iowa.

Wichita State has played three singled-digit games since Christmas, road games against the three best teams in the Valley. Only one, the game at Missouri State on January 11th, was really in doubt late in the game, and that one went to overtime after Wichita State dug themselves an 19 point hole in the second half.

My point?

At this time of year, teams are dragging. Practice started in late-September, and when you deal with five months of travel and two-or-three hour practices, it will wear on you. Everyone has games where they don’t show up ready to play, or where their legs just aren’t there, or where they’re a step slow in their defensive rotations.

It’s a part of the game, and it’s not surprising when a group of college kids have an off-night.

I’m not trying to tell you that Wichita State is the best team in the country because they can run through the likes of Bradley and Drake and Evansville.

But disregarding the fact that they are 28-0 because they’ve played a weak schedule ignores one, simple fact: it is a very, very difficult thing to do to beat teams you are supposed to beat 28 straight times.

  1. greej1938l - Feb 19, 2014 at 11:34 PM

    THEY DONT PLAY ANYONE!

  2. greej1938l - Feb 19, 2014 at 11:42 PM

    My point being…I’m not impressed like some of the media…put em in Big Ten and there maybe .500 in conference….but hey Loyola is pretty damn good I heard

  3. elwaysagenius - Feb 19, 2014 at 11:59 PM

    This article acknowledges that they have a weaker schedule than other highly ranked teams. Rob’s trying to get across how hard it is to get up and play good enough basketball to win every night. Syracuse is more talented than almost any team they play, but we saw tonight that it’s hard to perform at your peak night in and night out

    • packergator - Feb 20, 2014 at 9:04 AM

      Problem is, greej, that when you have three straight games that are this close, you’re bound to lose one of them. That’s more than an effort problem. Will this be exposed in the tournament??

    • big3kansas11 - Feb 20, 2014 at 2:06 PM

      Another factor that people don’t realize is that top teams like Syracuse, Wichita State, Florida, Arizona and the rest of the Top 10, can have a lot of trouble getting motivated to play cellar dweller conference foes.

      Who has more reason to be motivated? Was Syracuse motivated and jacked up to play Boston College? Probably not, add the fact that it’s a home game for the Orange and against one of the worst teams in their conference, and it’s probably safe to say that Syracuse had no desire to play Boston College. For them it probably felt like one of those games they just want to get out of the way.

      Match ups like those can easily turn into trap games. On one hand such a match up is not a big game for the better team to look forward to, and on the other hand the bad team is usually getting jacked up sky high for the opportunity to beat one of the best teams in the country. Which a lot of times results in the bad team overachieving and the good team getting shell shocked and flustered.

      The Shox have already had games like that this season. The 1st time they played Loyola at home in Wichita, it looked like after they had the game comfortably in hand halfway through the 2nd half, they just started to look bored. Then the Ramblers go on a big run and force the Shox to actually work the rest of that game to earn the win. It felt like the Shox started that game hot with the intention of putting the game away early so they could unload their bench and give some of their starters some rest to save up energy reserves for future games. All the sudden the Shocker bench players are getting handled by the Ramblers, and Coach has to put all his starters back on the floor to work for the win.

      And it’s not like Wichita State didn’t see these situations coming. They know they’ve been getting every teams best shot. It’s just that a few times they’ve underestimated how tough some of their opponents best shots would be.

      I’m sure the Syracuse loss was similar. They didn’t overlook Boston College, they just weren’t all that excited to play them. While BC has nothing to lose and can afford to play fast and loose. That’s really one of the tougher things about College basketball. It’s hard for any team to go undefeated. And people who don’t watch Wichita State games, or have never seen Missouri Valley Conference rivals go toe to toe, they think the Shox have just breezed through their conference because it’s super weak. Yeah the MVC is having a down year, but it is not a weak conference. They’ve had to fight and work hard to win every game up to this point. They’re getting every teams best shot and the double digit final scoring margin for victories that the Shox have doesn’t show the whole picture of how those games played out. The last game against Evansville, Evansville hung around and was nipping at the Shockers heels all the way to 5 min left in the game. Wichita State didn’t go on a big run to put the game out of reach until the last 5 min. Before that it was a tough dog fight. Top to bottom the MVC is tougher than most Mid-Major conferences, like the West Coast Conference. The WCC has Gonzaga, BYU and Saint Mary’s, outside of those 3 teams the rest of their conference is relatively weak. 1 teams has a hard time dominating the MVC for more than a few years at a time. It’s not like the WCC where 1 team can dominate their conference for 15 straight years like Gonzaga has. In a 4 year span the MVC has had 2 teams that knocked off the number 1 ranked team in the NCAA tournament. Northern Iowa did it to Kansas in 2010, which KU was also the overall number 1 seed besides being ranked number 1 in both polls. And the Shox did it last year when they beat Gonzaga.

  4. greej1938l - Feb 20, 2014 at 12:44 AM

    Hard to perform at peak against top level competition in big conferences BC isn’t that good I’m not saying they are. But they get beat on and exposed by other good teams they play.

  5. wwttww - Feb 20, 2014 at 12:51 AM

    1 & done

  6. shockertalk - Feb 20, 2014 at 2:30 AM

    Staying unbeaten is an achievement of its own. The Missouri Valley is a good conference, one of the top mid-major conferences. They have excellent players. Ballantine of Evansville and Beane of Southern Illinois are guards as good as Ennis, Thanes, Napier, Kilpatrick.

    So, its waaaay more than ‘NOT EASY’ to go undefeated in the MVC. Of course, lets not forget the preseason. Its hard to beat Alabama when they are on a home court winning streak and their point guard, Releford, is one of the best in the country. Its hard to go into St. Louis and beat the Billikens (they only lost to WSU and Wisconsin, and haven’t lost since WSU beat them).

    An undefeated regular season is not the same as winning a national championship, but its a special achievement of its own. One could argue that it is more of an achievement than making it to the Final Four.

    Only 18 other teams in the history of the NCAA have done what WSU has done. Thats special, and very difficult. I think, by the time WSU is done, there won’t be 5 teams that have done better.

  7. musketmaniac - Feb 20, 2014 at 3:32 AM

    weak conference, yes agreed. But Sec and Acc are not exactly power this year. The ncaa is in a year of turmoil, blame expansion. The acc lacked something this year, big east was split. pac 10 and the big 12 were stable. Than the there is Wichita state who lost Two maybe three opportunities this year against Creighton, whom are having a top 25 season in the new big east.

  8. packergator - Feb 20, 2014 at 9:01 AM

    Don’t use these next 3 weeks as a barometer of likely tournament success; the 2006 Gators lost three straight in late February and the 2007 Gators lost 3 of 4 about the same time. It is exhausting to get an opponent’s best effort every game, especially on the road.

    That being said, I don’t like the they’re-just-college-kids excuse; I expect more from a Gator squad that starts 4 seniors and had 4 days to prepare for this Auburn team – AT HOME. They’re going to have a couple of games like this in the tournament, where they don’t shoot well and the opponent shoots over 50% from 3-point range.

  9. musketmaniac - Feb 20, 2014 at 3:51 PM

    Don’t put Syracuse going far in your bracket. Too many free lunches in the acc. In the big east if the cuse were to make a run like this I would have taken it seriously. The tougher the league the more prepared the team. Florida would be in the same category, a lot of free lunches in the sec. The big 12 and the pac will have an impact on this years tourney, mix in some schools like Wichita state and st Louis, schools that are still playing for respect.

  10. musketmaniac - Feb 20, 2014 at 5:04 PM

    big3kansas I agree with you that its tough to get up for bottom feeders. but that’s not good enough of an excuse for a no.1 team. At home, and with that snooze alarm called over time, they had plenty of time to wake up.

  11. nelly837 - Feb 20, 2014 at 5:34 PM

    Greej1938I……obviously you don’t watch a lot of basketball or else you would have noticed that WSU was in the final four last year and if it hadn’t been for a couple of unlucky bounces of the ball they would have been in the championship game. Florida isn’t exactly in a basketball powerhouse league. WSU has beaten two SEC teams this year, the only top 10 team Florida has beaten is Kansas. So when you say that WSU doesn’t play anyone just shut up because you sound ignorant.

  12. musketmaniac - Feb 20, 2014 at 5:57 PM

    nell the sec has not been legitimate basketball conference in years., yet they walk around with their football fueled arrogance.

  13. musketmaniac - Feb 20, 2014 at 6:03 PM

    couple of other notes Wichita state would easily finish atop the big ten, but with a few losses. And finally as big3 refers to them as shoks, and everybody else is doing this WSU. Washington state is WSU, don’t know which school came first, don’t care. WSU on the national scene belongs to the cougars, no matter how irrelevant they tend to be.

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