Wichita State is the Surprise of College Basketball

By David A.

Wichita State is currently No. 4 in the nation. The Shockers are one of just two undefeated schools in Division I, with the other No. 1 Syracuse. The Shockers are 9th in RPI and 12th in BPI.

They might share something in common with Syracuse for being undefeated, but they are far apart in many ways.

For Syracuse, an undefeated streak and No. 1 in the country will come along another time. They might not be undefeated again in February for a while, but national recognition, a shot at the No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed are certain things that will happen again for the Orange.

However, for the Shockers of Wichita State, who really knows? No one knows when Wichita State will be considered a top seed in one of the regions in the NCAA Tournament or when they will get the media coverage again, that is currently following them around the country.

The program at Wichita State is reliable and well done but money is what it is all about in college sports today. Saint Joseph’s was 27-0 ten years ago and become the first team since 1991 to go undefeated during the regular season. They marched into the postseason with their heads high. However, since that time they have returned to March Madness just once.

There is one aspect that makes it a bit easier for Wichita State to be 24-0 and that is no one really expected it. The team has gelled into one of the best in the country this season, but is made up of misfits and that is why most basketball insiders would have never bet on them winning 24 straight.

Cleanthony Early is a fine example. He is the leading scorer on Wichita State, but started his college career at a junior college in Division III. He will reach the NBA one day from a path no other player might have taken before him to get there. Early decided to stay close to home and attend a community college following the drowning of his brother.

The team’s second leading scorer, Ron Baker is from Kansas and his high school coach had to beg the Wichita State coaching staff to take a look at Baker. Last season he redshirted as a freshman without a scholarship.

The stories continue right on down the roster. Tekele Cotton played most of his high school games with a serious injury, but he did not want to sit and miss games. However, that might have cost him offers from some big schools and he was left with Wichita State, Tennessee State and Morehead State to choose from.

Since few if any thought the team would be in this situation, the expectation was not high and it has made this run that much easier for the players.

The Shockers are a big deal, only a big deal in what is a small setting. Fans are not used to winning all their games, but are some of the most loyal in college basketball.

Time will tell if they can remain undefeated through the regular season and into the NCAA Tournament. If they do, they should be given a top seed in one of the regions and could be one of the teams to beat.