The Wichita State men’s basketball team burst onto the national college basketball scene last March, with a Cinderella run to the Final Four. That team largely remained intact heading into this season, and the Shockers are continuing to make noise this year.
Gregg Marshall’s squad is currently 27-0, and their favorable schedule for the rest of the season makes many think that they will finish undefeated. They are joined by Syracuse as the lone unbeaten teams in the country.
The question many fans are asking is whether their success stems from their cupcake schedule, or if they’re an elite team.
Let’s start by looking into the first possible explanation. The Shockers have yet to play a team who was ranked during their matchup. However, they are not necessarily beating up on local JV squads, either. They have faced big programs, such as Tulsa, Alabama, BYU, and Saint Louis, who was arguably their most formidable opponent. These schools are obviously not slouches, and feature many talented players.
I generally withhold judgment on a team’s caliber until they defeat multiple ranked teams. Remember their Final Four run from a year ago though, as it proves that they are still a talented team. To argue against that would be foolish.
Senior Cleanthony Early leads the team in scoring with 16.2 PPG on 46.1% shooting. NBADraft.net has him as a 2nd round pick. He’s widely regarded as one of the better scorers in all of college hoops, regardless of the team’s schedule. Sophomore Ron Baker is most remembered for his floppy hair and playmaking skills. He also averages nearly 2 steals a game, and is a lockdown defender for the team. And, of course, no description of the team is complete without mentioning Fred VanVleet. The sophomore point guard is racking up over 5 assists per contest, and many view him as one of the best point guards in the entire NCAA.
This trio is surrounded by an excellent supporting cast consisting of players such as athletic guard Tekele Cotton, swingman Nick Wiggins, and bruising post player Darius Carter. Coach Marshall is an up-and-comer, and will likely receive many offers this offseason as one of the many good young minds is basketball.
So why do we doubt them? They haven’t played as a tough a schedule as Kansas, and don’t feature the talent present at Duke or Arizona. But what this team does have is passion, and a motivation that is rare to find on other teams. The team has adopted a mantra of “Playing Angry.” This came from former Shockers visiting the team last season, and instilled a furious determination in their minds.
“It doesn’t just apply to basketball,” Baker said in an interview with ESPN last month. “I like to study angry, I like to hang out angry, I like to eat angry. This may sound weird, but I like to be nice angry.”
This way of “playing angry” certainly extends beyond the hardwood. The players keep the idea in their mind that nothing is handed to them and they have to earn it. This may help explain why they’ve been able to pull out close games and remain undefeated. They have a chip on their shoulder coming from most people criticizing their game.
Needless to say, this is a unique team. Fresh off of a deep tournament run, they have more than lived up to expectations this year. Many doubters gloss over their strengths by referencing their easy schedule, but the team is definitely not one that has simply gotten lucky. As the season draws to a close, the Wichita State Shockers are ready to try to prove those doubters wrong, and repeat on their previous success.