Bob Lutz

More evidence why Wichita State is an NCAA Tournament team

Wichita State guard Landry Shamet goes to the basket against Northern Iowa guard Spencer Haldeman during the second half Saturday at Koch Arena.
Wichita State guard Landry Shamet goes to the basket against Northern Iowa guard Spencer Haldeman during the second half Saturday at Koch Arena. The Wichita Eagle

The weakness of the basketball being played throughout most of the Missouri Valley Conference has become irrelevant to Wichita State.

The Shockers, fresh off their latest Valley trouncing, are legitimate in any conference, in any country, throughout any universe.

If aliens on Saturn are watching the Earth’s version of college basketball, they don’t need Jeff Sagarin, Joe Lunardi, Jerry Palm, Ken Pomeroy, Jay Bilas or the ghost of John Wooden to tell them what is apparent to humans and aliens alike: Wichita State’s basketball team belongs in the NCAA Tournament regardless of what happens in the MVC Tournament next month.

Northern Iowa had won 9 of 10 games going into Saturday’s game against the Shockers at Koch Arena. The Panthers were dangerous. The Panthers won in Wichita last season. Look out for the Panthers.

But the Panthers left town after Saturday’s game the way every Valley team leaves town after playing the Shockers — in no hurry to come back.

Wichita State won 73-44. It wasn’t an offensive masterpiece, but this is a team that creates works of art in other ways. Saturday it was defense (UNI shot 27.5 percent) and rebounding (WSU had a 48-23 advantage).

“To beat that team, as well as they were playing, by 29 points — we must be doing something right,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said.

Northern Iowa’s Jeremy Morgan and Klint Carlson, whom the Panthers rely on heavily to score, made 3 of 26 shots. But they kept shooting, which worked out well for Wichita State.

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Marshall preaches defense on Sundays and every other day. He’s at his most intense when the Shockers are guarding and when there’s a breakdown you’d think someone had stolen Marshall’s car.

The looks that man can give to a player flap the unflappable. It doesn’t take long for Wichita State’s players decide that, as tough as playing the kind of defense Marshall demands is, it’s easier than soaking in his wrath.

WSU has won its eight Valley home games by an average of 28.3 points. The Shockers are 15-1 in the conference, 25-4 overall and still some debate their merit as an NCAA Tournament team.

Which is hogwash. Which is having not enough to do to occupy time.

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There is no doubt about two things: The Missouri Valley has done nothing to prop up the Shockers. And the Shockers don’t need to be propped up.

Marshall was hit with the NCAA Tournament question again Saturday. It’s not his favorite question because it frustrates him to have to answer. His team is 25-4.

He talked about a non-conference schedule that he purposely loaded up only to watch several teams on that schedule struggle. He talked about playing (and going 1-2) against LSU, Louisville and Michigan State in the Bahamas during a November tournament. He talked about choosing to play Oklahoma and Oklahoma State only to have OU struggle without standout guard Jordan Woodard. Oklahoma State humbled the Shockers by 17 at Intrust Bank Arena.

“We’re playing the game as well as we can play, better than we were earlier in the year,” Marshall said. “We lost two NBA players. Three of our losses were before Christmas. The only thing I can say to anybody who doesn’t think this is an NCAA Tournament team or that it doesn’t deserve one of the 37 at-large bids is that they don’t watch enough basketball. All you have to do is watch our team.”

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He’s right, all you have to do is watch the Shockers. Wichita State lost a Valley game by 14 at Illinois State on Jan. 14 and three weeks later beat the Redbirds by 41 points at Koch Arena.

Since beating Indiana State by eight points in Terre Haute on Dec. 28, Wichita State’s 14 Valley wins have been by double digits.

The conference isn’t doing the Shockers any favors, but it’s not as if Wichita State is muddling its way through.

Marshall contends that WSU, which has played in five consecutive NCAA Tournaments, has been consistently undervalued and underseeded outside of the No. 1 seed it earned by going undefeated through the regular season and MVC Tournament three years ago.

But that’s OK. That’s the price of being in a non-BCS conference.

It’s not OK to be having this “Is Wichita State an NCAA Tournament team” debate when the Shockers have obliterated almost everyone they’ve faced for the past eight weeks.

Wichita State is a No. 8 seed in the latest Lunardi bracket at ESPN.com. Palm has the Shockers as one of the first four teams out of the bracket at CBSSports.com.

There is a wide variance of opinion when it comes to Wichita State’s tournament resume. But if you see the Shockers is destroy mode, is there really anything to debate?

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