For two months, Wichita State played like a team that could beat anybody — against a schedule loaded with nobodies.
The NCAA Tournament selection committee sees it that way.
It rewarded the Shockers for their 30 wins and their average margin of victory of 19.6 points with a No. 10 seed. It further spit on the Missouri Valley Conference’s reputation by kicking aside Illinois State, the co-champion of the MVC with a 17-1 record.
On Friday, the Shockers (30-4) can answer the question building since early January — how good is this team and what will it do against quality opponents?
They play seventh-seeded Dayton (24-7) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis to tip off their sixth consecutive NCAA appearance. Next to those teams on the South Region bracket is second-seeded Kentucky. The third seed is UCLA and top-seeded North Carolina is three wins away in the regionals in Memphis.
“They’ve got to get rid of as many non-power five (conference) teams as possible,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “They pit us against Dayton. They had VCU against St. Mary’s. I’m just glad we’re in.”
So if the Shockers are going to stick around long, they’re going to prove they can play with the best.
“We are very excited to play against high-major teams,” WSU sophomore Markis McDuffie said. “We don’t get many chances. I feel like all year we’ve been preparing ourselves for this moment.”
WSU’s seeding — again — will provide a talking point. And not just in Wichita.
The Shockers went 1-3 against the NCAA field (defeating South Dakota State and losing to Michigan State, Louisville and Oklahoma State). The committee ranked them No. 38 on the seed list of the 68 teams, which seems to discount statistical measurements — from an RPI ranked No. 32 to a kenpom.com ranking of No. 8 — that argue for better treatment for a team on a 15-game win streak.
“I feel like they kind of did us dirty,” McDuffie said.
“Surprising to see we’re a No. 10 seed,” junior Zach Brown said. “We’ve surprised a lot of people throughout all the games that I’ve played in the NCAA Tournament. Everything happens for a reason.”
Dayton coach Archie Miller can get a scouting report on the Shockers from Sean Miller, his older brother. Last March, the 11th-seeded Shockers defeated Miller’s sixth-seeded Arizona Wildcats.
“I thought a 7 seed was generous for us,” Archie Miller said. “Wichita State is a Final-Four caliber program.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari remembers 2014, when his eighth-seeded Wildcats seemed an unfair draw for top-seeded Wichita State. The situation could reverse itself in a week.
“They got like 37 wins, 15-20 in a row,” Calipari said. “When you mis-seed somebody, it hurts the seeds above them. All of a sudden you put a team in at an 8 that shouldn’t be there, it hurts the 1.”
The Shockers will get their education on Dayton starting Monday. On Sunday night, coaches began loading video on computers to study tendencies and strategies. By Monday’s practice, the players will be ready to absorb knowledge with full attention on Dayton.
“Our bracket is really loaded,” WSU guard Landry Shamet said. “We know that if we don’t come out and do what we have to do against (Dayton), there’s no playing whoever you want to play in the bracket.”
Marshall said practices produced some minor injuries this week. A migraine headache sidelined guard Conner Frankamp on Sunday. Sickness kept center Shaq Morris and forward Eric Hamilton out earlier this week.
“We had some major collisions in practice (Sunday),” Marshall said. “Nothing serious, but that’s the danger you have to deal with when you practice like we do.”
Dayton’s recent history is similar to WSU’s Under Miller, they are making their fourth consecutive NCAA appearance. The Flyers advanced to the Elite Eight in 2014 as a No. 11 seed by defeating Ohio State, Syracuse and Stanford before losing to Florida. In 2015, they defeated Boise State and Providence before losing to Oklahoma.
Dayton won the Atlantic 10 regular season title before losing in the first round of the conference tournament to Davidson.
It led the conference by making 47 percent of its shots and 38.7 percent of its three-pointers. Defensively, it ranks third in the A-10 by holding opponents to a 41.3-percent shooting percentage. Its average of 7.8 steals ranks second.
Five Flyers average between 8.1 and 16.1 points and 10 players average 12 or more minutes.
Guard Scoochie Smith, who averages 13.5 points earned a spot on the all-conference first team. Forward Charles Cooke, who averages 16.1 points, is on the second and All-Defensive teams.
WSU’s 15-game win streak entering the tournament is the nation’s fourth-longest, trailing Vermont (21), Princeton (19) and SMU (16).
Wichita St. vs. Dayton
- When: 6:10 p.m Friday
- Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis
- Records: WSU 30-4, UD 24-7
- Radio: 103.7-FM
- TV: KWCH
- Tickets: ncaa.com/tickets