If Wichita State wins the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, the Shockers will enter the NCAA Tournament unbeaten – which hasn’t done since UNLV did it in 1990-91.
While there are parallels between those teams, there are also many differences.
“I think their story in and of itself is pretty remarkable,” former Runnin’ Rebel and current CBS Sports basketball analyst Greg Anthony said on The Doug Gottlieb Show. “We had high expectations. Even the year we won (the national championship in 1990), we were preseason No. 1. So that’s a little bit different dynamic. We also had four (NBA draft) picks on our team.”
Those were Anthony, Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon and George Ackles.
The Shockers don’t have that kind of depth – not from an NBA standpoint, anyway – but they’re not without playmakers.
“They have a terrific talent in Cleanthony Early, who I think is going to be a first-rounder, and Rob Baker’s a solid player,” Anthony said. “And they did go to the Final Four a year ago, and they had high expectations this year.”
And yet, the No. 2 Shockers (31-0, 18-0), due to their weak schedule, have been a bit of a punching bag this year – despite the fact that they’ve won 35 of their last 36 games, including NCAA Tournament games against Pittsburgh, Gonzaga and Ohio State.
Their only loss came to eventual national champion Louisville, by four points, in the Final Four.
“What bothers me is that people aren’t giving them enough credit for what they’ve done,” Anthony said. “You know how difficult it is – no matter what level you play – to go undefeated. There’s a reason it hasn’t happened very often. You’re going to have that bullseye on your back.
“And so for them to play the way they’ve played over the course of this season after having gone to a Final Four, I think (it’s) really impressive. I’m hoping they get rewarded with a 1-seed because I think they’re deserving – if they win their conference tournament.”
But what about teams like No. 8 Kansas (22-7, 13-3), which has played an absurdly difficult schedule? Don’t they deserve a 1-seed?
Maybe, maybe not. Anthony believe we sometimes focus too much on who teams play rather than how they play – and Wichita State has played very well.
“Even when I was in school, we didn’t play in a power conference,” Anthony said. “Yeah, we played a lot of good teams (out of conference), but we still would get challenged by (league rivals) – because any time you are the big dog and you go on the road, you are going to get that team’s best.
“Everybody’s not fortunate enough to be able to play the top powers because there’s also the business and the economics of basketball that come into this,” Anthony continued. “I’ve heard Bill Self talk about this. They won’t play Wichita State. Wichita State doesn’t always get the opportunity to play some of these teams.
“If Wichita State had come out of nowhere this year, then I think that argument carries a lot more weight. But the fact that they went to the Final Four last year and almost beat Louisville, that also carries some weight from my perspective.”