DES MOINES — What I don’t understand about the Wichita State naysayers is their forgetfulness.
It was just last April, after all, that the Shockers played in the Final Four. I was in Atlanta. I saw it. I even remember it, sort of.
WSU won four games in the NCAA Tournament, then had Louisville on the ropes in the national semifinals before letting a 12-point second-half lead slip away.
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But now it has become a national parlor game to question the Shockers from every direction. Their 21-0 record — WSU gained No. 21 with a 78-61 win over Drake on Saturday night at the Knapp Center — is being assaulted by those who believe Wichita State is a fraud, hardly worthy of walking in unbeaten unison with Arizona and Syracuse.
Hey, it’s not the Shockers’ fault they’re 21-0. You would think they’ve done something wrong, that they should be sent to stick their noses in a corner until they learn to behave.
Wichita State is at least a good college basketball team and perhaps even a great one. Have the Shockers played the toughest schedule in the country this season? No, far from it.
Is the Missouri Valley Conference providing the proper tests as Wichita State moves forward? It’s a fair question, but all the Shockers can do is play the teams that show up in the other uniforms.
That’s what Drake did Saturday. If only the Bulldogs had been as confident as the several hundred in their student section, who started chanting “Overrated” before the opening tip.
“I never heard that before a game,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said.
The students kept up a verbal exchange with the Shockers throughout, oblivious to the growing disadvantage on the scoreboard.
“They even said Nick (Wiggins) was adopted,” Wichita State senior Cleanthony Early said of his teammate.
You can say a lot of things. But there was nothing Drake or its students could actually do about the steamrolling Shockers, who continue to confound some around the country who just don’t know what to make of them.
The Shockers look like a good bet to vault to No. 3 in the rankings this week, ahead of Michigan State and Villanova. That is unless they get jumped by Florida or San Diego State, which could happen.
You would think that what WSU accomplished last season would resonate more than it is, especially because so many key players from that team (Early, Ron Baker, Fred VanVleet, Tekele Cotton) are on this team.
And to be fair, Wichita State is getting a lot of national adulation. But the skeptics often drown out the believers.
“I just go with the flow, day by day, interview by interview,” Marshall said. “I try to answer questions as candidly and honestly as I can. This is a very good basketball team. We don’t have to apologize to anybody about our schedule. We put it out there that we’ll play the best teams in the country. We will take all comers, but it takes two to tango. You can only play the teams that will play you.”
Marshall added Saint Louis and Alabama this season. The Shockers played Tennessee and BYU. Western Kentucky, Oral Roberts and Davidson have all had outstanding seasons in the recent past but are struggling in 2013-14.
That’s not Wichita State’s fault.
The Valley is another story. The Valley is down, way down, and not just because Creighton left for the Big East and Loyola was chosen as the Bluejays’ replacement.
Most every team in the conference is having a down season, with the exception of the Shockers and Indiana State. The Valley, to which Wichita State has been a loyal member for close to 70 years, is not doing the Shockers any favors.
“The Valley is in transition, as we know,” Marshall said. “We play the schedule that we’ve got and so far we’ve played it pretty well. These are really fine young people that we’re dealing with. They deserve all the credit and accolades that we’re getting.”
And doubts, I suppose, are just a part of it.
“Any of the people who want to say we’re not this and we’re not that — the fact is we’re No. 5 in the country,” Marshall said.
And dominant. Yes, the Valley is down. But the Shockers, for the most part, aren’t messing around with these teams. They’re blitzing them. WSU shot 52.7 percent against Drake, outrebounded the Bulldogs by 17 and led by as many as 25 points.
If the Shockers are overrated, as the Drake students professed, time will bear that out.
For now, though, this is an unbeaten team, set to be ranked No. 3 and coming off a Final Four. Sounds to me like they’re right where they belong.