The snickering has begun, Wichita State is gone, the 1 seed that didn’t belong bumped early from the NCAA tournament by one of the sport’s blue bloods, despite its 8 seed.
The Shockers got a raw deal. The NCAA tournament committee can slice it any which way it chooses, but if any other No. 1 seed had drawn Kentucky as its 8 seed and second matchup — Arizona or Virginia, perhaps — the college basketball world would be up in arms. I can hear Dick Vitale’s voice in my head: (enter high-pitched voice) “It’s a travesty for those kids at Virginia, who worked so hard for a No. 1 seed, and they an underachieving Kentucky team, with Final Four talent, right away.”
I get the argument that if you’re truly the best, you’ve got to beat the best. But the whole point of a No. 1 seed is it’s supposed to be a reward for the regular season, there is supposed to be some sort of advantage. Wichita State would have been better served as a No. 2 seed. It would have rolled through every No. 7 seed in this field.
Or any other 8 seed. Think about it: Colorado and Kentucky were on the same line.
Kentucky probably deserved an 8 seed based on its body of work. Understood. But anyone who saw the Wildcats in November or in the SEC tournament, knew the potential was there for much more. This was, after all, the preseason No. 1, based on the most heralded recruiting class ever. So, either the talent is Final Four-caliber, or early rankings are abolished beginning today.
Pundits are fond of using the term “eye test” when judging college basketball teams, usually as a way to ignore the accomplishments of a mid-major. Kentucky wasn’t a No. 8 seed by the “eye-test” standard. If you want to punish great talent for grossly underachieving, that’s fine. But don’t punish the No. 1 seed. Put Kentucky on the 11 line, or put them in a play-in game, in the side of the bracket with the 3s and 6s. Or make them a 6. Not an 8. And, if an 8, how about in the bracket of the lowest No. 1 seed, Virginia?
And if you’re laughing at mid-major Wichita State today, you don’t know basketball or you didn’t watch a minute of the Shockers this season, Sunday included. That was a Final Four-type game. Kentucky, as it played Sunday, might have beaten every team in the NCAA tournament field, Florida, Virginia, Arizona and Michigan State included.
I’ve heard folks say Wichita State was just introduced to Big Boy basketball. Keep in mind, the Shockers were in last year’s Final Four, beating Gonzaga and Ohio State along the way, and pushing Louisville to the brink.
This year, they beat NCAA tournament teams Saint Louis, BYU, Tulsa and Tennessee, and also Alabama, and then pounded the Missouri Valley Conference, staying perfect through nine conference road games. Do you know how many Horizon League road games Butler dropped in its last run to the NCAA tournament final? Four. Conference road games in any league are a chore.
Wichita State would love to play Kansas, as Dayton would love to play Ohio State. The JayHawks and Buckeyes instead duck the matchup and count on the ignorance and snobbery of high-major fan bases to ignore the injustice.
When a school turns down an out-of-league game – and has open dates to play it – that ought to be on the record and taken into seeding consideration. The courage factor, we’ll call it.
I covered the mid-major world for six years, and have good friends who are fans of another Missouri Valley school. To walk in those shoes is to see a different perspective. Every high-major fan and reporter and talking head ought to spend a couple of years in that world and then come back. You’d see something closer to the truth. Something you don’t often get from the mouths of college basketball’s money.