The Chicago way---
Talk about strange, when was the last time that a team from Chicago was even relevant in college hoops, let alone dominant? Northwestern still hasn’t been to an NCAA Tournament, the only school from a BCS conference that can claim that indignity. You would have to back to Ray Meyers De Paul teams of the 80’s, the Demons went to the Final Four behind Mark Aguirre in 1979. Before that the balance of power was at Loyola of Chicago which won a national title in 1963. Odd that a city which traditionally is such a fertile recruiting ground has so infrequently produced good local college basketball.
Indecently, Wichita State was one of only two teams to beat that Loyola club in ’63. The Shockers, led by Dave Stallworth were ranked eighth in the country when they went into Chicago and beat the Ramblers.
Down the stretch---
Just four games remaining in a season that’s seemed to fly by; a win at Loyola clinches no worse than a tie for the Valley title and would set up Saturday’s visit from Drake as a championship clinching day. In the last three plus years Wichita State is 113-23; they’ve won over 83 percent of their games and have posted the best road record in the country. During that stretch WSU has won 37 times more than any other team in the Valley (12 more times than Creighton including this year).
National Coach of the Year---
If Marshall goes unbeaten the only way he doesn’t win it is if Jim Boeheim does the same at Syracuse, even then I think they should share it.
I know many of you are getting tired of hearing about the Shocker’s strength of schedule, but would you rather be not talked about at all? I subscribe to the thought that the only bad opinion ---is no opinion. The very fact that people are talking about you means that you’re worthy of discussion, or debate, or argument. What are we really talking about here, the difference between being a one or two seed?
We live in a 24 hour news cycle for sports, there are going to be divergent pools of thought on the Shockers, especially when the narrative on them nationally is boiled down to two things—the unbeaten streak and the strength of schedule. I found it interesting that last week Ron Wellman, the head of the NCAA Basketball Committee said that programs which scheduled aggressively shouldn’t be punished if those schedules didn’t work out as intended. In other words, Wichita State takes a road game at Alabama figuring that the Tide will be their customary self in the SEC, only to see them suffer through a tough season. BYU is finishing strong, but they’ve lost ten games, Tennessee hasn’t really gained traction all season, but started the year nationally ranked. The Shockers would have played Texas in Kansas City last November, but the ‘Horns couldn’t beat BYU.
Add to the equation that teams simply won’t play the Shockers in Wichita. Gregg Marshall will play anyone, anywhere, but he expects a return date in exchange and many simply won’t grant it. It’ll be interesting to see if the run their currently on will loosen up scheduling for next year, in the meantime they shouldn’t be punished just because they’ve won every game they’ve played.
If the Shockers win tonight, they’ll be one of only 18 teams in college basketball history to start a season 28-0, if they finish out the regular season unscathed they’d be one of just 7 teams to get to 31 and oh. If they sweep through St. Louis to get to 34-0, they would match the best start of all-time and a win in the NCAA Tournament to get to 35-0 would be the best start in college basketball history.
The last team to go unbeaten in the Valley was Bradley in 1986, but they only played 16 conference games back then. Southern Illinois opened 17-0 before losing their final game of the regular season in 2004, so WSU is trying to become the first MVC team to ever run unbeaten all 18 conference games.
This will be the first sellout of the season for Loyola, Chicago—the Shockers have provided all eight of their Valley brethren with their largest crowds of the season. I’ll be with the team throughout the day and night, watch for my reports at 6 and 10pm on Eyewitness Sports.