Friday, March 7, 2014

Shocked by the Shockers

by: Micah Sokolsky

In college basketball, a new team seems to surprise the country each year.  People tend to consistently look at major college basketball conferences for top teams:  ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac 12, SEC, and the Big East/American.  Currently, the ACC has four teams in the top 15 in the nation and the new American Athletic Conference has five in the top 25.  Because of all the conference realignment, schools that used to play in smaller conferences and were considered “surprise” teams are now accepting invitations to the major conferences.  However, some of the mid-major schools are continuing to have success in college basketball, but how come they are rarely, if ever, the top ranked college program in the nation?

The Wichita State Shockers are the only undefeated Division I Men’s Basketball program in the nation at 31-0; yet sit as the second best team in the country.  But if they are undefeated, then why are they not number one?  Well, let’s take a look at whom the Shockers played this year:  Nobody.  The only teams of note the Shockers faced this year is Saint Louis (who were unranked when the two faced off in December) and SEC teams Alabama and Tennessee, but neither ‘Bama or the Vols look like they will qualify for the NCAA Tournament.

Those writers who rank the teams in the AP, USA Today, and other polls put a lot of focus on the strength of schedule for each team.  The University of Florida is on a twenty-three game wining streak and sits atop the polls, yet they have two losses this season, both to ranked opponents.  Florida also beat both Alabama and Tennessee.  The University of Arizona is the third best team but have two losses against unranked opponents in an extremely weak Pac 12 Conference; Arizona has only faced one ranked opponent all year (Duke who currently sits at number 4 in the polls).

Yes, it is difficult for Wichita State to face similar competition to Arizona and Florida or any team in one of the six or seven major conferences for that matter, but what team wants to play Wichita State and risk losing?  That really hurts the team’s ranking.  Michigan thought they had an easy win to open their football season in 2007 against visiting Appalachian State, but ended up being upset and were not ranked the following week after being number 5 in the pre-season poll.  The big teams pay smaller colleges to visit their “house” so the big school can get an easy win to start a season.  However, when those rare upsets occur, they hurt bigger teams.

Major teams do not want to visit Wichita State either.  While a 10,000-seat arena does sound nice, a team like Kansas, Kentucky, or North Carolina would much rather play in front of 16,000, 23,000, and 21,750 screaming home fans and the greater likelihood of a nationally televised audience.  If anything, those teams would rather face Wichita State on a neutral ground, like Madison Square Garden, the Palestra, or on a Naval aircraft carrier.

In terms of national coverage, Wichita State and the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) do not receive as much as the major conferences do.  The MVC currently has a deal with ESPN3 and Cox 22.  However, only customers with Cox Cable in the Kansas area are able to view the games on Cox 22, but that is only when the teams do not play on other nationally broadcasted channels (ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, CBS, etc.).  While Cox and Wichita State have discussed structuring their own television deals, nothing seems to be working out.

The best solution for Wichita State to finally be recognized as the top team in the nation would be to accept an invitation to a new conference, specifically the Big 12 Conference.  This way, they would be nationally covered during in-state rivalries against Kansas and Kansas State, as well as against the other competitive colleges in their conference.  While the Shockers do not have a football team to earn revenue from those network deals, they will likely be showcased more on nationally televised games, not just from ESPN3 on the Internet or solely a local station.

Not to mention, the quality of the competition in the Big 12 is far more superior to the MVC.  Yes Larry Bird went to Indiana State several decades ago and Bradley did upset Kansas in the first round of the 2006 NCAA Tournament during their Sweet Sixteen run, the quality of both of those teams does not compare to that of any Big 12 team.  There is significantly better competition within the Big 12 Conference than in the MVC this season, as well as in virtually every season.  Thus, a potential conference switch for the Shockers would be beneficial.

In order for the nation to reward the Wichita State Shockers for an impressive season, they must face stiffer competition.  If the Shockers were to accept an invitation to the Big 12 or attempt to visit other big name institutions or play in tougher pre-season tournaments, no poll will rank them the number one team in the nation.  Yes, Wichita State will likely receive a one-seed during the NCAA Tournament (I would hope), but that is not the same as being the highest seeded team in the country.  However, a move to a larger conference and tougher out of conference schedule would certainly do the trick and the Shockers will no longer be “shocking” the nation.

Micah Sokolsky is a Pre-Junior Sport Management major at Drexel University with minors in Spanish and Business.  Micah hails from San Francisco, CA and was a participant on Drexel Sport Management’s College Sport Research Institute (CSRI) team last year in Chapel Hill, North Carolina in 2013.  Micah completed his first co-op with the Camden Riversharks minor league baseball team in their Marketing and Promotions department.  A member of the Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity, Micah is involved on campus as the Athletics Chairman for the Inter-Fraternity Council and as a Resident Assistant in Race Hall. Connect with Micah on LinkedIn.

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