Saturday, February 11, 2012

Wichita State makes a statement: are they the best the Valley has to offer?

Two weeks ago, Andy Glockner raised the question via twitter whether or not Creighton was actually the best team in the MVC.

It was, in a word, intriguing. I brought up the issue the following day, something that did not go over well with Creighton fans. At the time, Wichita State was coming off of a triple-overtime loss to Drake, Creighton owned the only head-to-head meeting and also sat in first place in the MVC standings. Risky, yes. But without justification? No.

Creighton is a team with a powerhouse offensive attack, but they struggle on the defensive end of the floor. The Shockers? They are a top 25 team at both ends. Its why, heading into Saturday, the Shockers were 13th in Kenpom's rankings and Creighton was 29th.

That's a significant difference.

And we saw it on the floor on Saturday.

Wichita State absolutely blitzed the Bluejays. They took a 49-36 lead at the break and extended their cushion beyond 20 in the second half. They shot 58.5% from the floor and knocked down eight threes. They got 24 points, six assists and one turnover from Joe Ragland and 22 points from Ben Smith. Four other players -- Toure' Murry, Garrett Stutz, Carl Hall and Demetric Williams -- all scored between eight and 11 points.

But more importantly, they held one of the nation's most potent three-point shooting teams to just 5-23 from beyond the arc and completely took Doug McDermott out of the game. He finished 5-14 from the floor and committed a pair of fouls on three-point shooters.

I think its safe to say that we can now call Wichita State the best team in the Valley. I know its safe to say they are the favorite. With just three league games left, the Shockers now own a two-game lead over Creighton. Their only loss since the first meeting with Creighton (which came on New Year's Eve) was the 3OT loss to Drake. They are 22-4 on the season with wins over Colorado, UNLV, Utah State and Tulsa. This is an NCAA Tournament team, and a dangerous one at that.

Creighton may be in some trouble, however.

Their tournament standing is probably pretty safe. That's what happens when you have a 21-5 record with wins at Wichita State and San Diego State and over Iowa and Northwestern. The bubble is weak this season, and even with this current three-game losing streak, the Bluejays are still a safe bet to go dancing so long as they turn this thing around.

How dangerous they end up being in the tournament is a different story, however. Has this team "lost their mojo?"

Frankly, I don't think so. I can live with close losses to Northern Iowa and Evansville. The Valley is strong and balanced every season and one of the most difficult leagues to win on the road. The abuse that Creighton took at the hands of Wichita State is, in my opinion, probably more of an anomaly than an accurate gauge of how good these two teams are.

Is Wichita State better than everyone thought? Very much yes.

Is Creighton's ranking inflated? It probably was.

But there is no way that the Shockers are a 21 point better team in Omaha. No way. Wichita State punched Creighton in the mouth and the Bluejays didn't have a response. These things happen.

If anything, it sets the table for what could end up being an epic title game at Arch Madness.

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