After a quiet week of rest and practice, the history-making Shockers return to the stage on Sunday.
At around 5 p.m., Wichita State will be revealed as one of the teams expected to win the NCAA men’s basketball title.
Not since 1964 have the Shockers entered the NCAA Tournament so highly regarded.
No more scrappy No. 9 seed or darkhorse No. 5 seed. All the benefits and burdens of contender status hit another level. The NCAA first seeded teams in 1979 and Indiana State earned one of those spots, the last Missouri Valley Conference team to do so. WSU’s highest seed in seven appearances since 1979 is No. 5 in 2012.
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Every bracket guesser with a significant audience — Palm, Lunardi, USA Today, Yahoo, Sports Illustrated and others — locks Wichita State into a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Upsets of teams such as Kansas, Villanova and Syracuse in conference tournaments reinforced that probability.
As an added attraction, the path to the Final Four could visit matchups with KU, Kansas State, Oklahoma State or Creighton upon the Shockers.
“Wichita State won the Missouri Valley tournament last Sunday and will carry a perfect 34-0 record into the Big Dance,” wrote Michael Beller of SI.com. “A showdown with in-state rival Kansas in the Elite 8 would make for great theater, and the Jayhawks' loss to Iowa State in the Big 12 semifinals likely locked them into a 2-seed in the Shockers' bracket.”
The Shockers (34-0) will watch NCAA’s selection show in private at the Champions Club in Koch Arena. Last season, many of the same players gathered and while they should have been confident of inclusion, they weren’t. It didn’t help when CBS and the NCAA kept the Shockers in the last bracket revealed.
“I think there will be a little less anticipation and excitement,” WSU sophomore guard Fred VanVleet said. “We feel pretty good about where we’re at. It’s just a matter of where they send us and who we’ll be playing. Last year, we didn’t know what the heck was going to happen.”
WSU knows it’s in the 68-team field with the Missouri Valley Conference’s automatic bid locking up a third consecutive NCAA appearance, a first for the Shockers. As a likely No. 1 seed likely ticketed to play in St. Louis, the suspense is lessened considerably.
“The drama will be done pretty quickly, because they’ll probably show the first four seeds,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “There will be some drama if we’re not one of those four.”
What does the No. 1 seed mean?
Usually, it’s an easy win over a No. 16 in the first game. No. 1 seeds won 20 of the 35 NCAA titles since 1979. Only six No. 2 seeds are champions in that time. In the past 10 tournaments, 14 No. 1 seeds made the Final Four. From the pool of No. 2 seeds, nine advanced that far.
In 2013, the ninth-seeded Shockers joined top-seeded Louisville (the eventual champion) and No. 4 seeds Michigan and Syracuse in the Final Four. In 2008, all four No. 1 seeds (Kansas, Memphis, North Carolina and UCLA) played in the Final Four.
“This year’s (WSU) team is better than last year’s Final Four team,” ESPN’s Jay Bilas said in a recent network wrapup of the regular season. “That is one tough group that expects to win.”
So does the NCAA selection committee. The Shockers step into this new phase of tournament life on Sunday.
See it all — Fans can watch the private selection show on WSU’s Google Hangout, accessible through goshockers.com. The site will host a chat, pictures and live video.
CBS Sports selected WSU as one of four teams for a NCAA March Madness Confidential all-access program. A four-person CBS crew will follow the Shockers, Oklahoma, Creighton and San Diego State throughout the tournament.