Unbeaten Shockers not getting poll lot of respect

ASSOCIATED PRESS Cleanthony Early is a starting forward for 23-0 Wichita State.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Cleanthony Early is a starting forward for 23-0 Wichita State.
Posted: February 06, 2014

MY GUESS is this goes back to 1979 when Indiana State was unbeaten all the way to the national championship game. By then, college basketball was starting to become a national sport and, with that, came the prejudice against the terrific unbeaten or near-unbeaten team from a non-power conference. Larry Bird's team had doubters all the way to the game against Michigan State.

The great 1989-90 La Salle team could never crack the Top 10 even though it lost only once in the regular season and three of its starters eventually played in the NBA. Two years ago, Murray State was 23-0 and was No. 9 in the poll.

That brings us to Wichita State, one of two remaining unbeatens, along with No. 1 Syracuse. Why is Wichita No. 4 this week instead of No. 2 in the writers' poll and why did the margin between the Shockers and No. 3 Florida widen?

All 65 Associated Press voters went for Syracuse as No. 1. Jim Boeheim's team has beaten Villanova, Duke, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Indiana, Baylor and Minnesota. It is a sensational résumé.

Wichita's best win is over No. 13 Saint Louis. The Shockers play in the Missouri Valley, a difficult league, but definitely not a power conference this season.

Still, Wichita is 23-0. The Shockers are a joy to watch. Their defense is right out of a basketball textbook. And it's not as if they started this season as an unknown. Many of these same players were on the 2013 Final Four team and outplayed eventual champion Louisville for much of their semifinal game. It took an absolutely heroic effort by Rick Pitino's team to win that game.

Apparently, the Final Four lessons of George Mason (2006), Butler (2010, 2011), VCU (2011) and Wichita (2013) have not been learned. All the best teams are not necessarily in the power conferences.

Arizona finally lost and is No. 2 after being No. 1 for so long. Keeping the Wildcats at No. 2 is certainly defensible. But I am a bit confused why the two-loss Gators vaulted Wichita last week. Florida's two losses are at Wisconsin and at Connecticut, hardly bad losses. Their only two quality wins are against Kansas and Memphis.

By the way, Wichita is second in the coaches' poll. I think they have it right.

The good news is that this is just something to talk about in February. In March, all the teams will get their chances to prove how good they really are in the NCAA Tournament.

And Wichita State will get a serious test tonight at 17-5 Indiana State, even though Bird no longer plays in Terre Haute. Wichita did beat the Sycamores, 68-48, at home on Jan. 18, but this figures to be much tighter.

Hawks' big week

Saint Joseph's (15-6) has a record that is better than its talent, a tribute to a veteran group that clearly enjoys playing together, has four true road wins and is 7-2 in games decided by six points or fewer.

Even with the three 1,000-point scoring seniors (Langston Galloway, Ronald Roberts and Halil Kanacevic), steady junior point guard Chris Wilson and excellent freshman small forward DeAndre Bembry, these Hawks have obvious flaws, including the fact that they really don't have anybody who will dribble by a defense. So they are susceptible to pressure.

The Hawks have been able to mask their flaws most nights, but they remain and will be no secret when the Atlantic 10's two best teams come calling to Hawk Hill, Saint Louis tonight and VCU on Saturday.

The Billikens win with brilliant halfcourt defense, third most efficient in the country. VCU wins with its Havoc pressure.

SJU is not in the NCAA conversation at the moment. But if the Hawks win one of these games, they will be on the periphery. If they win both, they will move from not close to the at-large pool in early February.

Instant classic

How good was Syracuse's overtime win over Duke on Saturday at the Carrier Dome? The losing team finished with an amazing 1.31 points per possession, while the winners got 1.34 ppp.

It was fascinating to see both teams play to their strengths, with Duke shooting 15-for-36 from the arc and 16-for-36 inside the arc, while the 'Cuse was 28-for-50 on twos and only 3-for-4 on threes. Syracuse kept attacking the rim, which is why it got to the foul line 32 times.

Shame Duke's Jabari Parker and then Amile Jefferson fouled out. Might still be playing if they had not.

The game was high-level from start to finish. Could see either of these teams winning it all.

LB doing it again

SMU has not been relevant in so long, nobody can remember when it was. Larry Brown has made the Mustangs relevant in only his second season.

Heading into its home game with Temple tomorrow, SMU is 17-5 and 11-0 at home. The Mustangs had Memphis down 25 on Saturday before winning 87-72. They shot 57.6 percent and got 21 points and 15 rebounds from Villanova transfer Markus Kennedy, who was 10-for-10 from the field. Kennedy, whose free throw shooting (1-for-16 at 'Nova) was hard to watch, is 61-for-106 from the line this season.

SMU is third nationally in field-goal defense (37.2 percent). And the best is yet to come. Brown signed Dallas point guard Emmanuel Mudiay in the early period. He is No. 5 on ESPN's Top 100. His older brother, Jean-Michael, just happened to show up on the SMU roster this season. He barely plays, but Larry has not forgotten how the recruiting game works.

This and that

* This could change slightly by the Final Four, but the NCAA is planning for a capacity of 77,122 at the Jerry Jones Dome in Texas. I have never been a fan of dome baskets, but, if people want to buy the tickets, who I am to say they are crazy. It is a great event and fans obviously just want to be there, even if some will be sitting up so high, the video boards will be their best option.

* The Big 12’s teams are averaging a national-best 76.8 points per game. The games are wide open. Monday’s Iowa State triple-OT win at Oklahoma State got better the longer it went on.

* Texas and Kansas each beat four consecutive Top 25 opponents, the first time that has been done by even one team since 1997.

* Kentucky has had 17 first-round NBA draft choices in the last 4 years. Obviously, Julius Randle will be a lottery pick this year. Who knows how many others will declare and how many will be picked in the first round? Let’s say two more get drafted in the first round. That would be 20 in 5 years, a record that should stand for a while.

* Brenton Williams (South Carolina) has taken 72 free throws this season and made 69, a cool 95.8 percent.

* Why is San Diego State (19-1) so good? The Aztecs lead the nation in field-goal defense (36.2 percent).

* Official Mike Eades had the Syracuse-Duke game at the Carrier Dome on Saturday, the Drexel-UNCW game at the DAC on Monday. He blew his whistle in front of 35,446 on Saturday, 917 on Monday.

Email: jerardd@phillynews.com

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