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Cleanthony Early and his teammates stand among giants in history
When Wichita State reached the Final Four last season, the Shockers were a part of a trend, a team outside of the power structure reaching the final weekend of the college basketball season.
George Mason did it. VCU did it. Butler did it twice.
What the Shockers did Saturday night puts them in a company all their own. Or if Wichita State is put into a category, it stands in even more rare company than simply making a Final Four.
Four wins in two weeks is one thing. Winning 31 games in a row is another.
Wichita State wrapped up an undefeated regular season, a feat that hasn’t been matched in a decade with a win total that hasn’t been matched in 23 years.
Here’s how Wichita State stacks up with history:
• Wichita State is the first team to reach 31-0 since UNLV won their first 34 games in 1990-91. Led by Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon and Greg Anthony, that Runnin’ Rebels squad won the national title a year earlier before falling to eventual national champion Duke in the Final Four for their only loss of 1991.
• The Shockers have been downright dominant during this run. Wichita State’s win to seal a 31-0 regular season played out like so many this season — in lopsided fashion. Wichita State defeated opponents by an average 15.5 points per game, both against the overall schedule and in conference. The Shockers played in only five games all season decided by fewer than 10 points.
• The Shockers are the first team to reach the conference tournament undefeated since St. Joseph’s, led by Jameer Nelson and Delonte West, did it in 2003-04. The Red Hawks started 27-0 before losing to Xavier in the Atlantic 10 quarterfinals that season. The game against Xavier also was their first game as the No. 1 team in the polls.
• St. Joe’s chances for a No. 1 seed were questioned after the loss to Xavier, but the Red Hawks ended up as a top seed in the East region before falling to second-seeded Oklahoma State 64-62 in the Elite Eight.
• All but one of the 11 other teams to start 30-0 or better reached the Final Four. The exception was 1974-75 Indiana, which topped out in the regional final.
• The NCAA selection committee is not supposed to look at what Wichita State did last season, but we can. The Shockers are 61-9 in the last two seasons. Since March 1 last year, the only teams to defeat Wichita State are Creighton twice and eventual national champion Louisville.
• If the Shockers win the Missouri Valley Tournament, they will match UNLV’s 34-0 start and likely will grab a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. If Wichita State wins its first NCAA Tourney game — and no No. 1 seed has lost to a No. 16 — Wichita State will be college basketball’s first 35-0 team.
• Don’t dismiss the Missouri Valley Tournament as a formality for Wichita State, though. The Shockers haven’t won Arch Madness since 1987 under Eddie Fogler.
• Wichita State’s status as a No. 1 seed likely depends entirely on being 34-0. Other than the loss column — and it’s worth reiterating that’s not to be ignored — the Shockers don’t have a No. 1 seed profile. Wichita State is 3-0 against the RPI top 50 with the only win against a sure NCAA Tournament team coming on the road against Saint Louis. Wichita State has only six top 100 wins and only two of those (the season sweep of Indiana State) are in conference play.
• Advanced analytics are a little more kind to Wichita State than the RPI, which does not count margin of victory among any other things in its formula. Wichita State is ranked sixth in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings. However, the Shockers have one trait that every national champion has had since 2003, a top 20 ranking in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency.
• You haven’t seen the last of Wichita State after this season, either. The Shockers have one senior among their top seven scorers. That’s a major piece in Cleanthony Early (15.7 points per game, 5.9 rebounds per game), but sharpshooter Ron Baker and point guard Fred VanVleet are sophomores.