Improperly seeding Wichita State in the NCAA Tournament bothers the Shockers, even as they ignore the findings and win games in defiance of the bracket. There is another victim to consider – the opponents.
If it’s unfair to the Shockers, it’s also unfair to the higher-seeded team, as history shows.
Will that history matter as the NCAA selection committee reveals the 68-team bracket on Sunday? Past performance shouldn’t matter in 2017, which means the Shockers may again frustrate everyone with their refusal to fit into a easy-to-define slot.
“They better seed them carefully,” Missouri Valley Conference commissioner Doug Elgin said.
ESPN’s Jay Bilas thinks the committee needs to resolve the disparity between the paper trail and the eye test to properly seed the Shockers.
“The committee has a wonderful chance to screw this tournament up by mis-seeding Wichita State because they have the resumé of a double-digit seed,” he said in a conference call with reporters. “This is not a double-digit seed. This is a 5 seed. And if they put them as a double-digit seed, the team that gets them is going to get screwed.”
The 90-minute selection show begins at 4:30 p.m. Sunday on KWCH, Channel 12. The Shockers will gather in Koch Arena’s Champions Club to watch privately and see what a 30-4 record, assorted computer rankings and the automatic bid from the MVC means to the committee.
“If they’re seeded on the 8 or 9 line, with who they’re likely to get in the second round, that’s a major disadvantage if you have a team that’s improperly seeded,” Elgin said. “I think that’s what will drive fairness in the seeding process. I think the committee is well aware of how strong Wichita State is.”
WSU coach Gregg Marshall is on record with the Shockers a No. 4 or No. 5 seed, and also on record expecting the disappointment of a spot or three lower. His players sound long past worrying about how a 10-person committee — one that includes former WSU athletic director Jim Schaus and Creighton AD Bruce Rasmussen — judges them.
“The seeding doesn’t really matter to us,” junior Rashard Kelly said. “A game is a game, it’s an opportunity to beat another opponent.”
At the root of the problem is WSU’s rare position as a team that is hard to measure when the committee looks at RPI and uses that ranking as a “sorting mechanism,” as tournament chairman Mark Hollis says, to look at victories against other good teams. Hollis, in a recent conference call, said the committee’s job is to select the “best teams based upon results” for at-large spots.
While the Shockers, ranked No. 20 in the Associated Press poll, don’t need an at-large spot, “results” is a term that can help or hurt their case.
The Shockers, in large part because of the weakness of the Missouri Valley Conference, get few opportunities in January and February to play teams highly regarded by the RPI. This season, WSU lost most of its non-conference games against strong opponents and other opponents failed to perform as hoped. The RPI, under fire for its simplicity, does not consider margin of victory and largely calculates a team’s strength based on strength of schedule.
In 2013, a win at VCU played a large role in getting WSU an at-large bid. The 2014 Shockers owned wins over Saint Louis, BYU and Tennessee to strengthen its claim to a No. 1 seed.
That boost is absent this season, which leaves the committee and others trying to measure the Shockers without measuring them against a team commonly regarded as a lock for the NCAA Tournament.
WSU’s best 2016-17 non-conference win is at No. 66 Colorado State, one that looks better over the past month as the Rams surged. It can’t be the lead piece of evidence in an RPI-based case for a No. 5 seed.
This season, the Shockers went 2-1 against Illinois State (No. 32 in the RPI). They didn’t play another team in the top 140 since mid-December. WSU’s RPI rank is No. 29.
“Wichita State is very good, and they’re way better — their losses came early on when they were young and trying to figure it out, and they’ve figured it out,” Bilas said.
Measurements such as those figured by Ken Pomeroy and Jeff Sagarin — both which can be used to predict games and can be used for gambling — see the Shockers in a different light. In Pomeroy’s case, margin of victory and offensive and defensive efficiency matter. The Shockers excel by those measurements.
ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, which is also predictive, ranks WSU No. 16. Pomeroy ranks them No. 9 nationally; Sagarin No. 11. By those predictive measurements, WSU should one of the top four seeds in a region. The selection committee uses these metrics, as well as its time watching games, when selecting and seeding teams.
Entering its sixth consecutive tournament, the Shockers should be well-known and well-feared by higher-seeded teams. WSU is 6-3 against equal or better seeds in the past four NCAAs, including wins over No. 1 Gonzaga, No. 3 Ohio State, No. 2 Kansas and No. 6 Arizona.
Take a moment to sympathize with Arizona last season, which could have drawn one of six teams seeded No. 11.
The Wildcats drew the Shockers and NBA guards Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet. The Shockers possessed the group’s most elite statistical ranking – Pomeroy’s top-ranked defense. No other No. 11 seed ranked in the top 20 for offense or defense efficiency. Despite those credentials, the committee relegated WSU to Dayton as one of the last four teams to slip in with an at-large bid.
The Shockers possessed the group’s top overall Pomeroy ranking — No. 21 entering the tournament and No. 13 after the final game. No other double-digit seed ranked in the top 20.
WSU defeated Arizona 65-55 and few considered it an upset.
Northern Iowa and Gonzaga, the two other No. 11 seeds who knocked off No. 6 seeds last season, also come from conferences which may confound the committee’s thinking.
Northern Iowa, from the Missouri Valley Conference, defeated Texas and came within a few seconds of beating third-seeded Texas AM to advance to the Sweet 16. The West Coast Conference’s Gonzaga — with future NBA players Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis — defeated Seton Hall and third-seeded Utah before losing to 10th-seeded Syracuse.
“The seeding in this tournament, you can almost throw them out,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said after the game. “I think it’s almost unfair to try to worry, is it a good seed or bad seed, because there are so many good teams. And Wichita State, I think, is good enough to win several more games in this tournament.”
WSU is not unfamiliar with the hazards of seeding from the perspective of the favorite.
In 2012, the fifth-seeded Shockers lost to a 12th-seeded VCU team with a 28-6 record. VCU had won 17 of its previous 18 games, the loss by a point at George Mason.
In 2014, the top-seeded Shockers defeated No. 16 Cal Poly and lost to eighth-seeded Kentucky, a game both sides pointed to as a seeding injustice.
For Shocker newcomers such as freshman Austin Reaves and transfers Darral Willis, Daishon Smith and Kaelen Malone, the debate over seeding is secondary to the thrill of seeing their team on the CBS bracket on Sunday.
“It’s definitely what I came to Wichita State for,” Smith said. “For me to have this opportunity in my first year in an (NCAA) Division I program is big.”
Reaves listens to teammates talk about their NCAA experiences of the travel, the hype, NBA arenas, the big-name opponents and the focus of national audiences.
“It’s surreal,” he said. “It’s great being in the tournament and it’s something I’ve always dreamed about.”
NCAA Tournament selection show
- When: 4:30 p.m. Sunday
- TV: KWCH
- Kansas.com: Go to Kansas.com Sunday night for reaction from the Shockers, Jayhawks and Wildcats on the brackets.
Who and where
As of Saturday, a sampling of projections for Wichita State in the NCAA Tournament.
- Andy Bottoms of assemblycall.com: No. 9 seed vs. No. 8 Arkansas in Greenville, S.C. (South Region)
- Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com: No. 10 seed vs. No. 7 Virginia Tech in Salt Lake City (Midwest)
- Joe Lunardi of ESPN.com: No. 9 seed vs. No. 8 Northwestern in Tulsa (Midwest)
- warrennolan.com: No. 11 seed vs. No. 6 SMU in Orlando (South)
- Shelby Mast of USA Today: No. 11 seed vs. No. 6 Creighton in Indianapolis (West)
Look at the map
First and second rounds
March 16-18 — Buffalo, Milwaukee, Orlando, Salt Lake City
March 17-19 — Greenville (S.C.), Indianapolis, Tulsa, Sacramento
Midwest Regional — Kansas City, March 23-25
West Regional — San Jose, March 23-25
South Regional — Memphis, March 24-26
East Regional — New York, March 24-26
Final Four — Phoenix, April 1-3