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Commentary Bob Lutz: Haters still hatin’ on these Shockers

  • Published Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014, at 11:01 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, at 1:19 p.m.

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You got anything new you want to say about this incredible Wichita State basketball team? Because it’s getting harder and harder to find new adjectives.

The Shockers manhandled Drake 83-54 on Saturday night continuing their stranglehold on the Missouri Valley Conference. In so doing, WSU won its eighth Missouri Valley Conference championship and second in three seasons.

Let’s be honest here, the rest of the Valley isn’t worthy of the Shockers this season. It’s been a cakewalk to 16-0 as Wichita State has won its eight MVC home games by an average of 17.6 points.

Except for that harrowing come-from-behind win at Missouri State on Jan. 11, it’s been almost as easy on the road.

Slowly but surely, Wichita State is making believers of skeptics. Except, of course, Doug Gottlieb of CBS Sports, who continues his anti-WSU crusade on Twitter. Here’s his latest: “Arizona, Florida, Wisconsin, MSU, Kansas, Duke, Cuse, all far more deserving of 1 seed than Wichita State it isn’t even close.”

Let’s look past the terrible punctuation and break down what Gottlieb is really saying here, besides pointing out that as a paid college basketball analyst he’s more interested in ruffling feathers than in being credible.

It isn’t even close?

Look, all of the teams Gottlieb listed are really good. Any one of them could win a national championship. But so could the Shockers. Does Gottlieb remember last April, when WSU was in the Final Four and had Louisville on the ropes in the second half before falling short in the semifinals?

Does Gottlieb realize that the Shockers have four key players back from that team and all four are decidedly better than they were then?

It’s one thing to believe Wichita State is ranked too high. It’s OK to question the Shockers’ schedule, especially the Valley portion. But it’s silly to dismiss WSU out of hand as a No. 1 seed.

Gottlieb was the CBS analyst when Wichita State won at Saint Louis on Dec. 1, the only home defeat for the Billikens. He saw first-hand how tough the Shockers are. Well, Doug, they’re even tougher now.

Sure, the competition in the Valley isn’t strong. But the Shockers are whacking these weaklings, leaving no doubt. It’s one thing to be superior but something else to display that superiority consistently, game in and game out.

Drake coach Ray Giacoletti, in his first season with the Bulldogs, was an assistant at Gonzaga last season when the Shockers ousted the No. 1-seeded Bulldogs from the NCAA Tournament. Giacoletti made no bones about his belief that this Wichita State team is markedly better than the one that pulled one of the tourney’s biggest upsets just 11 months ago.

“If you’re a skeptic (about Wichita State),” he said, “then that’s on you.”

Yet they’re still out there, scoffing at the Shockers’ opponents and firm in their belief that the NCAA Tournament will finally expose this team for what is is. A fraud.

They do so without logic, however. Their only evidence is the Wichita State opposition. The Shockers themselves pass every test, from the voters who rate them No. 3 in the country, and likely to move up a spot next week, to the other Valley coaches who speak of Wichita State players and coaches as if they’re mystical beings from another place.

Giacoletti wasn’t asked one question about his team after Saturday’s game. And he talked for more than five minutes, praising everything about the Shockers.

Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson has a conniption fit if you try to tell him Wichita State isn’t worthy of being a No. 1 seed.

The doubt frustrates Wichita State’s fan base, but Gregg Marshall and his players don’t let it eat at them. Their mission remains focused and they understand that how the Shockers play in the NCAA Tournament in a few weeks will be how they’re judged.

The Shockers don’t get caught up in the hype, good or bad. One of this team’s biggest attributes is its focus. If the Shockers feel the pressure of being 29-0, it doesn’t show.

Gottlieb, I’m sure, would say that’s because of the lack of competition. He has been steadfast for weeks that Wichita State is unworthy of its status and Shocker fans, unlike the team they cherish, have taken the bait.

Somewhere along the way, Gottlieb was branded as a college basketball expert. Good for him. I’m sure he spends hours watching and critiquing teams. And his opinion is shared by others, who refuse to give Wichita State credit for what it accomplished last season.

That’s the part of this that is so difficult to understand. The Shockers were in the Final Four in 2013. It wasn’t a fluke.

“And they’re much better this year,” Drake’s Giacoletti said.

There are no guarantees of another Final Four for WSU, of course. Nor, Doug, is there a guarantee for Arizona, Florida, Wisconsin, MSU, Kansas, Duke or Cuse.

To say the Shockers don’t deserve to be in the discussion for a No. 1 seed is silly. But Gottlieb knows how to create Twitter controversy. Give him that. Whether that makes him an expert is another story.

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

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