Wichita State is back on the bubble on Selection Sunday.
No, the Shockers won’t be back in the NCAA tournament this year, ending a seven-year streak under coach Gregg Marshall, but they have made a compelling case to receive an invitation to the National Invitational Tournament on Sunday night.
Wichita State (19-14) won 11 of its final 14 games, upset a NCAA tournament hopeful in Temple at the AAC tournament and took a top-25 team in Cincinnati down to the final possession in a 66-63 loss in the semifinals in Memphis on Saturday.
Will their play the final seven weeks of the season be enough for the Shockers to receive an at-large berth into the NIT?
They will find out at approximately 7:30 p.m. Sunday during the NIT selection show broadcast on ESPNU, which will immediately follow the NCAA tournament bracket reveal at 5 p.m. on CBS.
Here are answers to four important questions regarding WSU’s fate.
Where is WSU being projected?
There is a lot of variance with how NIT bracketology views the Shockers.
The KPI rankings, which are results-based, has Wichita State firmly in the NIT field as the final No. 4 seed.
John Templon of MidMajorMadness.com has Wichita State as his final at-large team in the field as a No. 6 seed playing Lipscomb in the opening round. DRatings.com also had WSU in as its last at-large team, but its final update has the Shockers as the first team out of the 32-team field.
The Barking Crow, another top NIT bracketology web site, does not have WSU in its projected NIT bracket and only gives the Shockers a 25 percent chance of making the field.
The NIT hands out automatic bids to regular-season champions who were the No. 1 seed in their conference tournament and didn’t win. If Belmont gets left out of the NCAA tournament field, then there will be 11 automatic berths: Lipscomb (Atlantic Sun), Hofstra (Colonial), Harvard (Ivy), South Dakota State (Summit), Loyola-Chicago (Missouri Valley), Wright State (Horizon), Sam Houston State (Southland), Campbell (Big South), Norfolk State (MEAC) and St. Francis, Pa. (Northeast).
That leaves 21 at-large berths to hand out. If WSU is selected, it would play its first-round game on Tuesday or Wednesday. Games in the first three rounds are all hosted on the campus of the higher seed.
How does WSU’s resume compare to other NIT bubble teams?
The eight teams I examined were Colorado (21-12), Dayton (21-11), Davidson (24-9), East Tennessee State (24-9), Fresno State (23-9), San Francisco (21-10), South Carolina (16-16) and WSU (19-14).
It’s important to keep in mind that likely five of these teams are going to the NIT, if not six or seven.
Below is a comparison of how WSU compares to these teams in the six rating systems the selection committee will look at Sunday. For reference, those ratings are the NCAA Evaluation Tool, KenPom.com, Kevin Pauga Index, Basketball Power Index, Strength of Record and Sagarin Ratings.
These rankings paint a peculiar picture. The NET is the NCAA’s new ranking system and while WSU is the lowest-rated team, it isn’t far off from most of the teams. Where the Shockers are rated lowest is in the predictive models like KenPom (94) and BPI (96), which has WSU considerably lower than any other team on this list. As you can see, WSU has the lowest average in the six metrics on this list.
But there is one metric that strongly favors the Shockers and that’s the KPI, whose rankings are more results-based. So why does WSU stand out in this metric?
Let’s take a look at the NET team sheets, which breaks down each team’s wins in quadrants. The basic gist is teams want as many Quadrant 1 and 2 wins as possible with as few Quadrant 3 or 4 losses as possible.
WSU’s case strengthens when examining its resume through this lens compared to the other bubble teams. Here’s that list sorted in the same order:
The Shockers have the second-most Quadrant 1 and 2 wins of these teams with the second-fewest losses in Quadrants 3 and 4. WSU’s home win over UCF is hanging on as a Quadrant 1 win, while the Shockers racked up Quadrant 2 wins over Baylor at home, Temple and Providence on neutral courts and Tulsa and SMU on the road. Their lone bad loss was to Louisiana Tech at home and that came in the season-opener.
So while predictive models may not love the Shockers, they have certainly made a strong enough case with their resume to earn a long look from the NIT selection committee.
Also helping WSU is its strong finish to the season. Since the end of January, BartTorvik.com has the Shockers rated as the No. 53 team in the country, which would certainly be deserving of a NIT berth. But will that be enough to overshadow a shaky 8-11 start to the season?
WSU’s fate will come down to what the selection committee values more.
What does WSU think of maybe playing in the NIT?
Talking with reporters outside the locker room immediately after the Cincinnati loss on Saturday, WSU coach Gregg Marshall said it won’t be his decision.
“It will be up to them if they want to play,” Marshall said of his players. “If they don’t want to play, I don’t want to play. I want it to be important to them.”
The players said they would certainly like to continue their season in the NIT.
“Most definitely,” WSU senior Markis McDuffie said. “If we can get into the NIT, most definitely. We can go out there and win that. I feel like we definitely deserve a bid. The way we improved over the season, I think we do, but you never know.”
“Me and Markis and coach talked about it and if we get a good bid to a good tournament, then we want to do it,” WSU senior Samajae Haynes-Jones added.
“We don’t care what seed we get,” WSU freshman Erik Stevenson said. “We just want an opportunity to play the game we love and put on the uniform another time and keep improving.”
Marshall certainly knows the impact a postseason run in the NIT can have.
The Shockers won the 2011 NIT championship, which kicked off their run of seven straight NCAA tournament trips. The obvious hope is that the NIT could serve the same purpose for WSU.
“If we win a couple of games, you get to go to Madison Square Garden,” Marshall said. “When we won in 2011, it was basically the impetus for our run. Winning the thing the way we did was pretty special and plus it’s right across the river from Markis’ home (Paterson, N.J.).”
What if the NIT passes on the Shockers?
Wichita State would certainly receive an invitation to the College Basketball Invitational or the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament. WSU accepted a CBI bid after the 2008-09 season, Marshall’s second year, when the Shockers were 16-16 and finished sixth in the Missouri Valley.
Things are a little more complicated this time around.
For starters, Marshall has built up WSU’s prestige considerably. Another factor is the Shockers are now playing in the American, a more highly regarded conference.
Both of those things matter because teams like WSU, with a proud reputation and from a strong conference, have said no to anything less than the NIT in recent seasons. In fact, Colorado (Pac-12) in 2015 is the last major-conference team to play in the CBI.
Now the CBI field is populated by mid-major to low-major teams. For reference, North Texas from Conference USA represented the highest profile conference in the CBI’s 2018 field.
Anything less than the NIT didn’t seem appealing to the Shockers in the immediate aftermath on Saturday.
“If we don’t get invited to (the NIT), we’ll have to discuss if we want to do one of the other tournaments,” Marshall said. “It will be their call.”