Leave it to that great American orator, Barry Hinson, to spell out what makes Wichita State such a good basketball team.
“I’ll tell you what they are,” the Southern Illinois coach said after his team’s 78-67 loss to the Shockers that was closer than the 11 points indicates. “They’re versatile. They remind me of a rover in softball because those guys can play any position. The thing that’s scary about them is that if one guy’s not scoring (Nick) Wiggins makes a three. If Wiggins doesn’t make one, (Ron) Baker does. Cleanthony (Early) goes off and gets points. (Tekele) Cotton scores a bunch off Northern Iowa. Every night they’ve got somebody different stepping up.”
But with Hinson, there’s always more. The coach who gave ESPN its programming for a week after an SIU loss at Murray State in December, showed the same passion when he was asked why the Shockers, despite being 26-0, are viewed with such skepticism nationally.
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“Oh, you want to go that route,” Hinson said. “Here’s what I’m going to say about that. If Wichita State loses a game and they just don’t drop them one spot in the poll and still give them a No. 1 seed, then I’m going to be really upset.
“Arizona loses one and only drops one spot. Well, you better give that same respect to Wichita State if they lose. You better give that same respect to our league. I don’t want to see that and I’m tired of sitting here I don’t give a flip about bracketology. But I hear Wichita State’s not a No. 1 seed? What more can they do? What do you want to do, beat people worse than they’re beating them? Gregg (Marshall) is sharing minutes. They’re undefeated. I mean, good gracious.
“That’s one of the top two teams in the country right now. How in the world can they not be a No. 1 seed even if they lose a game.”
It was at this point that the pitch in Hinson’s voice had reached a level only a voice coach could recognize.
And he continued.
“I’m fired up for the Shockers. I’m fired up for the Missouri Valley Conference. It’s a burr in my saddle when people talk like that because let me tell you something if Texas is 26-0 and they get beat, they’re still talking about them being a No. 1 seed. Why can’t it be the same for Wichita State?”
That’s vintage Hinson. There’s no one who loves the Valley more. In what has been a difficult year for the conference, who else but Hinson is able to summon that kind of passion and vitriol for his league and his league’s best team?
Now, he would have loved for the Salukis to have been the team to have tested his hypothesis about a one-loss Shocker team. And SIU came close. It’s a much better team than when the two met in Carbondale in early January and if the Salukis had done better than 14 of 24 from the free-throw line, we might be talking about that first loss.
“I thought Wichita State was beatable tonight,” Hinson said. “I do think we let an opportunity get away.”
The Shockers muddled through the first half with starting guards Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet spending significant time on the bench with two fouls. They really never played at a high level, although WSU scored 46 second-half points.
But SIU shot 47.1 percent, which irks Marshall, the Shockers’ coach. The undersized Salukis stayed with WSU on the boards, losing that battle by only three. Wichita State got by on being a better team, not necessarily playing like a better team.
“That was probably a C-minus for us,” Marshall said. “At best. But Southern Illinois gets a lot of the credit for that.”
The national college basketball pundits are sure to swish this one around in their mouths for a while and come to whatever determination they come to. Because of the Valley’s perception, which is more real than its spokesman, Hinson, would admit, it’s difficult to evaluate the Shockers.
But 26-0 stands up well to any review. It’s tough to scrutinize unbeaten and Wichita State has always had a way, under Marshall, to figure out how to win games that look to be in jeopardy. It’s how they’re coached.
Hinson is a believer.
“Right now, I don’t see them feeling pressure,” he said of the Shockers. “I don’t see that at all. I think they’re having fun.”