This all happened a decade ago. In 2004 to be exact.
The setting was Philadelphia. The school was tiny St. Joseph’s and the Hawks served as the precursor to the 2014 version of Wichita State, going unbeaten through the regular season, dominating the Atlantic 10 Conference and garnering a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Billy Packer went nuts.
The legendary analyst from CBS sports railed against SJU getting that top seed, arguing that no team from a mid-major league was good enough to hang with the big boys. Three weeks later, a St. Joe’s team led by future NBA players Jameer Nelson and Delonte West nearly knocked off Oklahoma State and future Utah Jazz point guard John Lucas III in the elite eight.
And this is why I laugh at those who claim Wichita State isn’t good enough to make a Final Four run. The same Wichita State team that — hello — made a Final Four run last season as an eight seed. Or is it that the Shockers have made the transition from Cinderella to favorite and are thus less palatable to the powers that be and more prone for nitpicking?
Fact is, WSU just may be the best team in the country. The Shockers are certainly the most consistent. They are unbeaten, and running through the Missouri Valley Conference. They have NBA talent in people like Cleanthony Early — a smooth combo forward — and shooting guard Ron Baker. They have an elite point guard in the always-calm Fred Van Vleet. They play suffocating defense and are efficient offensively.
With those attributes, why shouldn’t this team be a favorite to win it all? It’s not as if the rest of the country is on fire. Heck, we’ve seen three teams in the past week — Syracuse, Kansas and Duke — play themselves out of contention for a No. 1 seed.
So the big boys shouldn’t be so elitist, or maybe those who analyze the game shouldn’t be. The Shockers are for real, and are in this thing to stay.
And don’t be surprised when April rolls around to see this team playing itself into the final weekend of the season.
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