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Wichita State — at 34-0 — has yet to face its toughest test

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Updated: March 9, 2014 9:56PM

ST. LOUIS — Now the hard part begins.

With all due respect to Wichita State’s 34-0 record — and, really, how could anyone not respect it? — navigating through six more victories will be even tougher for the No. 2-
ranked Shockers.

Too tough? We’ll find out about that.

An 83-69 victory over Indiana State in the Missouri Valley Conference championship game Sunday puts Wichita State directly under the harshest spotlight any team will have to endure in the NCAA tournament, which begins March 18.

A No. 1 seed in the Big Dance is all but a given, but that will be met with the same criticism the Shockers have heard all season: that they haven’t beaten anybody.

It’s true, their schedule was softer than whatever the heck is going on above the shoulders of the team’s floppy-headed mascot. They’ve come all this way without beating a single opponent that’s currently ranked in the Associated Press Top 25. Apparently, despite the fact the Shockers reached the Final Four last year — many seem to have forgotten about that — their resume still doesn’t speak for itself.

What will Wichita State have to do to prove itself? Well, the bar is incredibly high.

“There are skeptics and naysayers out there that don’t know a hill of beans about college basketball that are saying, ‘Oh, their schedule,’ and this and that,” coach Gregg Marshall said. “I think you just have to watch and know what you’re talking about.”

Against Indiana State — 35 years removed from its Larry Bird-led 33-0 run to the national title game — the true quality of these Shockers was on full display.

They played rugged defense, as always. They were beautifully balanced offensively, with five players scoring in double figures, led by guards Fred Van­Vleet (22 points) and Tekele Cotton (20). In a highly physical affair, they “played angry,” as Marshall calls it, maintaining their intensity through every Sycamores mini-spurt and turning it up a notch as needed.

No. 1 seed Gonzaga and No. 2 Ohio State were on the business end of that brand of “anger” last March, and 34 other teams have been since. No team since UNLV in 1991 had reached 34-0.

There have been seven undefeated national champions, and none since Indiana cut down the nets in 1976.

“It would be more special to win it all, if that’s what you want to call it,” guard Ron Baker said. “[But] the whole season has been special.”

Of greater meaning to the Shockers at the moment: the program’s first conference tournament title since 1987. While the major-conference heavyweights around the country prepare for their own league tourneys this week, the Shockers will celebrate all they’ve already achieved. There’s plenty of time to get back to the business of chasing ultimate glory.

“This is one for the history books,” said Marshall, “and that’s great.”


Twitter: @slgreenberg

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