Ron Baker appeared to injure an ankle seconds after the opening tip Saturday night. Soon after, Cleanthony Early banged up a shoulder. Later, Fred VanVleet suffered a right knee injury and had to leave the game.
And hearts stopped all across Shocker Country.
If anything can stop this Wichita State freight train, it’s injuries. So far, the Shockers have avoided them, at least anything too serious. And while there were some breathless moments when the Shockers’ big three pulled up with various maladies at Northern Iowa, all returned to the action as good as new.
And they helped Wichita State improve to 25-0 with an 82-73 win over the Panthers, who like everybody else the Shockers played this season, just weren’t good enough to beat them.
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WSU has too much of this and more than enough of that.
The “guys” clearly are Baker, Early and VanVleet.
But what about junior Tekele Cotton? He’s known as a defensive specialist. Phooey. He’s averaging 10 points and had 18 against the Panthers. And if there were a Dr. J College Basketball Award for Dunking, Cotton would be the hands-down winner.
What about junior Darius Carter? As the season progresses so does Carter, who had 15 points and made all six of his shots.
Five Shockers scored in double figures. WSU pounded UNI on the boards 39-24 and continued its incredible free-throw assault, making eight more than the Panthers, increasing their advantage to 173 for the season. Am I the only one who finds that to be one of the amazing statistics of the season?
As a point of reference, last season’s Shockers made 553 free throws. So did their opponents.
Northern Iowa fans flocked to the arena, most likely not concerned about the potential of a free-throw disparity. The Panthers are almost invincible at home and their purple-clad following sensed the upset of the season.
Are they crazy?
Wichita State is now 35-8 on the road over the past three-plus seasons. They are not fazed by hostile surroundings. They embrace the hostility and the notion of sending riled-up fans home in frustration at what they thought could have been — but really never had a chance to be.
Northern Iowa hung around. The Panthers aren’t bad, but they’re not good enough to end Wichita State’s unbeaten streak. The Shockers aren’t likely to play that kind of team until deep into March.
Let the pundits tit and tat over the strength of the Shockers’ schedule. Let them pour water on the fire that is 25-0. It simply doesn’t matter.
There’s no reason this team can’t make a return trip to the Final Four.
Sure, it will depend on seeding and matchups and all of the things the NCAA Tournament is always about for every participant. But anybody who poo-poos the Shockers’ chances isn’t paying attention. They’re not studying this team and all of its strengths.
There is no weakness, at least not one I can detect. I suppose you can wonder whether the Shockers consistently shoot well enough. But that’s nit-picking and our parents taught us not to do that.
I was reading the Twitter timeline after Saturday’s game and noticed that a Shocker fan reached out to ESPN college basketball writer Jeff Goodman. The Shocker fan asked Goodman, “Still doubt the Shox?”
Goodman replied, “Still don’t feel Wichita deserves a No. 1 seed as of today.”
Unfortunately, too many Shocker fans are hung up on this stuff. They’re too concerned about what the national guys think, say and tweet. Goodman is one man with one opinion. I’m pretty sure he didn’t think the Shockers were going to reach the Final Four last season. He wasn’t alone.
I would suggest simply enjoying this incredible ride and the outstanding players who are whisking you away. Don’t let others get under your skin. In this day and age, everybody has an opinion and the outlet in which to share them.
What matters is that the Shockers believe. They have taken quite nicely to being unbeaten and if there’s any pressure building, it’s not showing. What a season. What a team. What a night.