Chicago State coach Tracy Dildy is better qualified than most to assess Wichita State's place in college basketball.
He loved the Shockers after watching game film. He loves them even more after seeing them live in Wednesday's 94-44 loss at Koch Arena. He loves them in comparison to the three other Missouri Valley Conference schools — Creighton, Illinois State and Southern Illinois — his team played.
"Stop calling this place a mid-major — this is a high-major program," Dildy said. "We played three high-major programs, and I'm telling you this team is clearly better than two of the high-major teams we played."
The Cougars (0-10) played Iowa, Illinois and DePaul — all from conferences considered elite — and Dildy declined to say which two rank below the Shockers (8-2). Shocker fans can probably puzzle that one out, and might reach the conclusion Dildy's praise, while appreciated, isn't big news. DePaul is a perennial Big East doormat. Iowa already lost to Creighton and Northern Iowa. Being on par with Illinois is a nice compliment, but hardly surprising.
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Suffice to say, WSU impressed Dildy, even more than last season's team that handled the Cougars 91-51.
"They've got so much experience, and they're so deep, and that's going to cause teams problems," Dildy said. "This is clearly a (NCAA) tournament team."
WSU senior Ben Smith led all scorers with a career-high 22 points. Guard Joe Ragland added 12 points and handed out six assists without a turnover. He impressed Dildy with his patience in keeping WSU in an offense against Chicago State's attempts to make the game a scramble. After facing teams such as Alabama and UNLV, carving up the Cougar attempts at defense came easy.
"Every team applies pressure, and you just can't panic," Ragland said. "Be confident, be strong in those situations."
WSU coach Gregg Marshall used the opportunity to clear his bench. He played 13 players, 12 of them 12 minutes or more. Freshman guard Evan Wessel played 20 minute and scored eight points. Freshman forward Jake White grabbed eight rebounds in 16 minutes. Junior forward James Anacreon scored six points and gave the crowd its biggest buzz with a one-handed dunk over a defender in the first half.
"I knew it was coming, because I know he can jump like that," Ragland said. "When I saw him on the break, I'm already standing up because I know what the outcome was going to be. I didn't know it was going to be that bad."
Fans who paid to see the blowout at least got to see a good amount of highlight plays, most of them involving Ragland finding open teammates.
* Toure Murry beat everybody down court for a two-handed dunk, courtesy of Ragland's lead pass. WSU led 7-2 after coming up empty on its previous four possessions.
* David Kyles dunked off a lob pass from Ragland for a 38-18 lead.
* Ragland, dribbling with his head up, hit Smith in stride with a one-handed, no-look pass for a layup and a 42-22 lead.
* Wessel made a long three over the Cougars' zone for a 45-22 lead.
* Anacreon knocked the ball away from a CSU dribbler, then sprinted down court. Wessel passed to him and Anacreon rumbled to the hoop for a one-handed slam that posterized Aaron Williams. The dunk brought the WSU bench to its feet, some laughing and some looking mystified at Anacreon's power display.
"I was shocked," Murry said. "I always knew he had athleticism like that, but it happened so quickly. For a guy that doesn't play a lot, to see him dunk on somebody, that was exciting."
* Garrett Stutz joined the dunk party in the second half. He slammed in lob from Ragland for a 55-26 lead. A few seconds later, Murry stole the ball and passed to Stutz for another dunk.
* Ehimen Orukpe benefited from Ragland's generosity, taking a lob for a dunk and a 64-28 lead.
* Tekele Cotton added some defense in the final minutes, rising up to stuff Jeremy Robinson at the rim.
It went that easily for the Shockers, who appreciated a low-stress night during finals. The 50-point margin is WSU's biggest since a 102-46 win over Maryland-Eastern Shore on Dec. 17, 2006.