So far this season, there hasn’t been the seemingly, weekly shakeup that we’ve been accustomed to seeing at the top of the college basketball polls. Holding on to the number 1 spot in the polls has historically been very difficult over the years. So, why are things different this season? Do we have teams at the top that are more dominant, or are the rest of the teams that much worse than in the past? I think it’s slightly more the latter, because there is still a lack of dominance by anyone in college hoops. We have had our share of number one teams. Kentucky opened the season as the top team. Since then, we’ve seen teams like Michigan State, Kansas, and more recently Syracuse atop the rankings. The Orange had lost two in a row, before their win over Maryland, Monday night. Those two losses by the Orange opened the door for the Florida Gators (25-2, 14-0 in SEC) to claim this week’s number one spot. It’s no surprise that the Gators moved to number one, but what about the nation’s only remaining unbeaten, The Wichita State Shockers (29-0, 16-0 Missouri Valley)?
Really, there isn’t a lot of importance to who’s number one in the polls, especially not in college basketball, but it still makes for a great debate. Right now, I don’t know that there is a better team than the Shockers. The Shockers caught lightning in a bottle last March and made a run all the way to the 2013 Final Four in Atlanta. So, they’re battle tested, and hungry to win a game……or two if they’re able to make it to this year’s Final Four in Dallas. In a lot of ways the Shockers remind me of another mid-major that caught lightning in a bottle and made a run to the Final Four, not once but twice. The Butler Bulldogs.
Wichita State, is coached by Greg Marshall. Both he and former Butler and current Boston Celtics head coach, Brad Stevens are known for their hard nosed fundamental style of play. Hard nosed and fundamental are two characteristics most teams lack nowadays, which gives Wichita State a huge advantage. In a nutshell….the Shockers don’t beat themselves. They average only 10 turnovers per game, they average seven boards per game more than their opponents, and they give up right at 60 points per game. Solid numbers. However, just like Butler, these Shockers have a lot of talent and quite a bit of experience. Fred VanVleet (12 points, 5.3 assists per game), a sophomore, runs the show at the point. He’s solid at getting the Shockers into their offensive sets, but he also can score. Cleanthony Early (15.8 points, 6 rebounds per game), a senior forward, is Mr. Versatility. He does just about everything well. He has a nice mid-range game, is good around the basket, but can on occasion step out and shoot the 3. Names like VanVleet and Early are not household names, but they’re more than capable of leading their team to Dallas.
So, they’re the only undefeated team remaining, they have talent, and they’re big on fundamentals, and they’re a solid candidate for #1 seed (if they finish the season undefeated). What’s holding them up from being number one? Besides Florida winning 19 in a row, and losing only twice out of a top-tier conference, not much. However, a lot of people will be reluctant to put the Shockers at the top of their ballot. Part of it is schedule, but the Shockers have had some nice wins ( at St. Louis, BYU, Tennessee, and at Alabama). St. Louis is now a top 10 team, and a candidate to make a long run in March, in their own right, and BYU and Tennessee are teams that could make the NCAA’. Not exactly murderers row, but let’s not forget the Missouri Valley has been a league that’s had quite a bit of success over the years, by several different teams.
On the other hand, Florida playing in the SEC is a feather in their cap, but besides Kentucky and a couple of decent teams, the SEC has been down for several years. Kentucky, even failed to make the Field of 68 last season. That said, this may be one of Billy Donovan’s best coaching jobs. Florida is talented, but there have been other Florida teams that were more talented, but failed to get it done in the tournament. Not recently, however, as Donovan’s team has made 3 straight Elite 8 appearances.
This season, this set of Gators has trouble scoring at times. The Shockers, who have been a bit more consistent average 75 points per game, while Florida averages 71. Both teams are stingy defensively. Florida gives up only 58 points per game, but Wichita State is only giving up 60. So, the teams look even on paper.
Being undefeated should count for something, however. It’s obvious that head coach, Gregg Marshall tried to setup a challenging schedule. The Shockers schedule strength is in the lower 100’s, while Florida’s is higher in the 50’s. So, even though Florida’s is higher it’s not a huge difference, especially when you factor in the SEC being a higher rated league top to bottom. The Shockers trip to last year’s Final Four should count for something also. This a different season, but let’s be real, marquee teams from power conferences whether in college football or basketball always are given benefit of the doubt all the time. Look no further than the Kentucky Wildcats for evidence of that. The Wildcats, again had the highest rated recruiting class in 2013. That recruiting class alone, a group of players that had never played a minute in college, was enough to rank the Wildcats number one in pre-season. This is a Kentucky team that failed to make the NCAA’s a season ago. The Shockers made the Final Four. While rankings don’t matter, think of what an honor that would be for a school like Wichita State. While it remains to be seen if Wichita State can turn themselves into another Butler story and return to the Final Four, there’s not much evidence they’re not the best team in the nation. The Wichita State Shockers are no fluke and deserve to be #1…………At least for now.