Wichita State Shockers

For Wichita State, waiting, watching, practicing will soak up time this week

Wichita State’s loss to Northern Iowa on Saturday in the semifinals of the Valley tournament left the Shockers’ NCAA Tournament chances on shaky ground.
Wichita State’s loss to Northern Iowa on Saturday in the semifinals of the Valley tournament left the Shockers’ NCAA Tournament chances on shaky ground. The Wichita Eagle

CBS is lengthening the NCAA Tournament selection show to two hours on March 13. If that means more waiting for bracket assignments, add it to the list for Wichita State.

The Shockers are in the early stage of the longest week of their basketball lives. What’s next? Nobody knows. They don’t control their fate, which could hinge on random games in the Atlantic 10, American, SEC, Big East and other conferences as NCAA resumes shake out in tournaments this week.

I'm optimistic but that's just my personality,” WSU senior Fred VanVleet said after Saturday’s MVC Tournament loss to Northern Iowa. “So you hope that you've done enough, but that was our whole goal coming into this weekend, to not be in this position.”

The results of this week could send the Shockers (24-8) to Dayton for the First Four, Oklahoma City, Denver, Des Moines or elsewhere for the first round. Or to the NIT.

On Sunday, fourth-seeded UNI defeated Evansville 56-54 to win the MVC Tournament and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. That result can’t hurt the Shockers, who have lost three times since Dec. 20, twice to the red-hot Panthers. It is those kind of circumstance Shockers coaches, players and fans will spend the week deciphering.

Root against Creighton, that one’s easy. Root for or against Cincinnati, Vanderbilt or George Washington? Those decisions are harder and may change hour by hour.

I'll watch it,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “I love college basketball. I'll watch a lot of games, and I'll try to learn and try to get better.”

MVC commissioner Doug Elgin sees the Shockers no lower than a No. 9 seed. WSU’s RPI ranked dropped from No. 38 to No. 47 after the loss to Northern Iowa. While the NCAA selection committee doesn’t rely as much on RPI as in previous years, that neighborhood is a dangerous one for teams.

“It’s going to be a tense week for everybody,” he said. “I think they’ve done enough. That’s got to be one of the at-large teams selected, based on what they’ve achieved and the projection that they could go deep into the tournament.”

Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson is also certain the Shockers are an NCAA-quality team.

“I don’t think there’s any question they’ll get an at-large bid,” he said. “When Fred has been healthy, they’ve played like the team that should be in the NCAA Tournament.”

While the Shockers lack marquee wins outside of a 67-50 win over Utah, Elgin said he knows WSU’s injuries will be considered by the 10-person selection committee. VanVleet missed four games, three of them losses, with a strained left hamstring and played 30 hampered minutes in a loss at Tulsa. Center Anton Grady missed four games with a spinal concussion. And the Shockers added guard Conner Frankamp on Dec. 9.

“Early, they were not at full strength,” said Elgin, who served on the selection committee from 1998-2002. “That’s a huge part of the argument for their inclusion.”

Injuries, however, can’t wipe away losses. WSU must hope the committee members look at the entire season and judge it worthy based on its work at full strength. Since Grady returned on Dec. 19, WSU is 19-4 with losses to Seton Hall and Northern Iowa in overtime, a loss at Illinois State and a home loss to Northern Iowa, none by more than five points.

Elgin and Jacobson are expected to stick up for their team. For others, it’s not so easy to see the strength of WSU’s resume.

Some number, such as WSU’s No. 10 ranking by Ken Pomeroy, argue strongly for inclusion. Others, such as a 1-4 record against teams ranked in the top 50 of the RPI, are not helpful. The Shockers should expect little help from their 17-3 record against Valley schools, none of which are ranked in the top 60 of the RPI.

The committee, of which former WSU athletic director Jim Schaus is a member, met several times before the selection process starts in Indianapolis. During the regular season, they confer on conference calls and get updates from schools and conferences. Committee members follow the top 75 teams particularly closely. Every committee member is responsible to track seven or eight conferences, half in a primary way and half in a secondary way.

Duke athletic director Kevin White and North Carolina-Asheville athletic director Janet Cone take primary responsibility for the Missouri Valley Conference.

“They have video at their disposal, they have any metric you want to look at to determine strength,” Elgin said. “They do a really thorough job.”

On Sunday, ESPN.com’s Joe Lunardi continued to be a strong advocate for the Shockers. He slots them a No. 7 seed, playing Butler in Oklahoma City, a dream scenario. If Lunardi is reading the situation correctly, a lot of others are wrong. Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com hasn’t considered WSU an at-large candidate for weeks and on Sunday listed it as one of the first four teams out. Yahoo.com’s Brad Evans lists WSU as a No. 12 seed.

“Their at-large chances are slim-to-none, and if this wasn't a team with a recent Final Four run and undefeated regular season, I doubt we'd be talking about them at all,” Palm wrote on Saturday.

Seth Davis of Sports Illustrated also ditched WSU’s at-large resume on his Twitter account, less than a week after writing:

“You know what people underestimate about the selection process? The eye test. The folks on the basketball committee watch a lot of games, and when the numbers don't help them pick one team or another, they almost always revert to what they saw. Which is why I really believe if Wichita State is even remotely close to getting in, they'll get in. Just watch ’em play and you'll know why.”

Which illustrates that things can change quickly. WSU’s resume can’t get any better, but others can get worse this week.

“I feel like we're in a tournament,” WSU senior Ron Baker said. “I'm not on the inside, so I don't know what they're talking about, discussing, but for us, we can just move on from this game, look at film, work on shooting the basketball, work on our craft, try and do things a little bit better to get our team ready for postseason play.”

Paul Suellentrop: 316-269-6760, @paulsuellentrop

MVC All-Tournament team

Most Outstanding Player — Wes Washpun, Northern Iowa

D.J. Balentine, Evansville

Jaylon Brown, Evansville

Klint Carlson, Northern Iowa

Jeremy Morgan, Northern Iowa

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