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Commentary Bob Lutz: Shockers don’t shy away from unbeaten discussion

  • Published Sunday, Dec. 22, 2013, at 11:37 p.m.

Wichita State is 12-0 and the Shockers aren’t trying to hide from being undefeated.

Shockers coach Gregg Marshall talked to his team about being undefeated before Sunday night’s 77-66 win over North Carolina Central and the video was playing on the scoreboard’s big, high-definition video screen at halftime.

You could never get a pitcher in baseball to talk about a no-hitter while it’s happening. But when you’re unbeaten in basketball, there’s no place to hide.

“Being unbeaten is a big accomplishment,” Shocker sophomore point guard Fred VanVleet said. “We’re the first team here at Wichita State to be unbeaten this far into a season. We went 10-0. Then we got to 11-0. Now it’s 12-0. We’re taking it one game at a time.”

There it is, the old “one game at a time” cliche.

But what are these Shockers supposed to say? Trust me, everywhere they go they’re being asked not so much about being the No. 11 team in the country. That’s nice, of course, and something to live up to.

Being unbeaten as January approaches, though, is something only nine other teams are dealing with. The list is short and sweet: Arizona, Iowa State, Ohio State, Oregon, Saint Mary’s, Syracuse, Toledo, Villanova, Wisconsin.

And Wichita State.

“You’re just trying to win at this point,” Marshall said. “We win, we remain unbeaten. Twelve is better than 11. And that was the goal tonight, to get to 12.”

Nothing invites more sports clinches than an unbeaten team. It’s just so hard to talk about.

You can’t boast about being undefeated because that stuff’s going straight up on somebody’s bulletin board. You can pretend to be surprised, but that wouldn’t work for the Shockers.

Being 12-0 isn’t really an over-achievement for Wichita State, which has won on the road against Saint Louis and Alabama and beaten BYU and Tennessee on neutral courts. The Shockers, after all, are coming off of a Final Four.

We’re far enough along in this column now to mention that no college basketball team has gone through an entire season undefeated since Indiana in 1976.

There, that’s out of the way.

And not for a second am I floating the notion or even the possibility that Wichita State is going to get through this season without a loss. That would be crazy. If I did that, someone should escort me into a room where I can be monitored.

But … have you looked at the teams in the Missouri Valley Conference this season?

It’s not good. It’s not good at all.

The rest of the Valley has two left feet while the Shockers are historically good. I have studied the other nine teams in the MVC, looking for one or two that might threaten the Shockers. Let’s just say I’m still looking.

I’ve been around long enough to know that strange things happen once conference play rolls around in college basketball. Up can be down and right can be wrong.

As WSU sophomore Ron Baker said, coaches around the Valley will know what the Shockers are doing before they do it. Same with Marshall and his assistants. It’s hard to spring a surprise on an opposing team inside the league.

Wichita State, though, looks like the kind of overwhelming Missouri Valley Conference favorite that comes along only once every 10 or 15 years.

The Shockers are that good. And the Valley, based on what I’ve seen, could be that bad.

And that’s not good.

This is usually a time to look forward to Missouri Valley Conference play, which the Shockers begin with a Jan. 2 game at Southern Illinois. It’s always fun to handicap the contenders and break down a team’s strengths and weaknesses.

My Valley scouting report for Dec. 23 is condensed to this: The Shockers are outstanding. The rest of the league looks suspect. It all adds up to what I believe will be a long unbeaten run, though Davidson does present a challenge in the final non-conference game next Sunday afternoon at Koch Arena.

Will some unsuspecting team rise up and give the Shockers a scare in MVC play? Almost certainly. Count on it.

But based on Wichita State’s toughness, exhibited time after time this season already, it’ll take a special team on a special night to beat the Shockers.

And I’m not seeing any special teams in the Valley this season. Except for one.

As Marshall addressed his team before Sunday night’s game, he didn’t shy away from the “U” word. He adopted it and gave it a home.

“We’re going for 12-0, we’re going for an undefeated season,” he said. “It’s never happened before in Shocker history. This is our gift to one another. I’ve got my call into Santa.

“We win tonight and we’re within two of the longest winning streak anywhere, any time in Shocker history.”

Wichita State won 14 straight during a 27-4 season in 1953-54. As good as that team was, though, it wasn’t undefeated.

This one is. So far.

“You’ve got to embrace it,” VanVleet said. “If you try to hide from it, it’s going to creep up on you.”

Reach Bob Lutz at 316-268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @boblutz.

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