When looking at the final four of the NIT, it's easy to conclude that one just isn't like the others: No. 1 seed Alabama (SEC), No. 1 seed Colorado (Big 12), No. 2 seed Washington State (Pac-10) ... and No. 4 seed Wichita State (Missouri Valley Conference).
I would assume that's the line of reasoning this guy followed in declaring the Shockers a "longshot" to eventually win the NIT. (Then again, he also cited rebounding margin as a relevant statistic, so ...) However, it would be foolhardy of us -- and even more dangerous for the team -- to look at Wichita State's seed or conference affiliation and overlook the Shockers in any way, shape or form.
And if you don't believe either of them, believe the gamblers: Wichita State is at least a 2 1/2-point favorite tonight. When you remember that betting lines are a reflection of perception of the betting public designed to split the action in half, and given that I would assume the general fan would tend to side with the major conference team, you can reach a reasonable conclusion that the sharps' money is on the Shockers.
So what makes them so dangerous? The biggest thing, in my mind, is a positively explosive offense.
The Shockers are rated as the 36th offense by adjusted efficiency -- by contrast, the Cougs are 72nd. Wichita State's ranking would make them the third-best offense in the Pac-10.
When you look at how the Shockers built the 20-4 record they started the season with, you see some pretty gaudy efficiency numbers. Only three times in their first 24 games did they drop below 1.0 points per possession on offense (and that includes 1.07 against Connecticut), and they were regularly above 1.10, exceeding 1.20 on nine occasions.
But then something interesting happened: The second time around league play, their efficiencies dropped against five of their nine opponents. For two other opponents, it dropped dramatically from the second to the third game, which was in the conference tournament. Pretty dramatically in a number of instances.
Since I'm not familiar enough with the Shockers to know if there were extenuating circumstances that led to this phenomenon (such as injuries), I'm going to pose a semi-unsubstantiated theory: Wichita State's league opponents, who would know them better than anyone, figured out better ways to defend them the second time around. We saw this happen last year with the Cougs, as Pac-10 teams learned how to defend Klay Thompson and the team descended into a tailspin.
Supporting this theory with Wichita State? Check out Shockers' offensive efficiencies in their four games leading up to the NIT (against league opponents) and then in the three NIT games (against teams who had not played them this year). Take note of the adjusted defensive efficiencies of each team:
| Wichita State
Defensive Efficiency Rating
|1.20||College of Charleston||154th|
After posting subpar (by their standard) offensive efficiencies against their final four MVC opponents, the Shockers absolutely lit up Nebraska and Virginia Tech -- two teams whose defenses are rated higher than WSU's (39th).
There's a good chance that tonight's game comes down to the Cougs' offensive performance. And that's sort of a scary thought, given how inconsistent we've been on that side of the ball. Furthermore, Craig pointed out that Wichita State excels at 2-point defense; if the Shockers are able to continue that tonight -- and if you remember anything from watching Bennett teams, it's awful hard to crack excellent 2-point defense when a team is absolutely dedicated to preventing 2-point baskets -- there's a chance this game will be decided by our 3-point shooting.
We know the Cougars have had a tendency to underestimate opponents all year. Will they fall in the same trap as that ESPN writer? Ken Bone has told anyone who will listen that Wichita State is a darn good team, and it's not just coach speak.
Let's hope our Cougars are listening.