Beach: The Shockers have room to breathe

Wichita State’s chances at post-season play improved after a 41-point win against Illinois State on Saturday.


Brian Hayes

Wichita State’s Shaquille Morris (24) and Austin Reaves (12) celebrate a Shocker three against Illinois State in the second half. Shockers shot 38.1-percent from past the arc in Koch Arena on Saturday night. (Feb, 4, 2017)

There has not been a season where the Shockers’ tournament fates have driven as much skepticism in recent years.

Sure, there was last season. But realistically, with a notable win against a then-ranked Utah, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi never had a doubt.

The Shockers squandered when it mattered. Against Louisville. Against Michigan State. Against Oklahoma State.

Staying the favorite to win the MVC, three-losses didn’t look too detrimental.

Not so fast.

The conference cruising ended with at Illinois State.

The Redbirds tormented the Shockers in Normal, cruising to a 74-62 victory to knock the Shockers out of first place in the Missouri Valley Conference for the first time in more than three seasons.

The loss was heartbreak for too many reasons.

Wichita State lacked a quality win, and chances for one didn’t really exist.

There wasn’t much reason to believe the Shockers deserved an at-large big for the NCAA Tournament. Entering Saturday, with a 20-4 record, Lunardi suspected WSU as a “last four in” 11-seed.

Then came the chance. Saturday, WSU hosted Illinois State in a sell-out Koch Arena. Gregg Marshall addressed fans saying “this one is personal,” before his team routed out the Redbirds by 41.

After such a beating, it may be difficult to think that yes, Illinois State is a quality win.

The Redbirds, who were undefeated against MVC opponents before Saturday should be capable of their winning ways against a line of lesser foes awaiting them in February. I venture to say that as long as the Redbirds continue winning, the Valley could end up striking two bids.

The Shockers have a lot to prove their one of the 26 deserving of an at-large, should anything happen in the first week of March. Consider emptying your bench with more than six minutes left in the game, up more than 40 points, a statement enough to garner some breathing room.

Shockers are on the up swing. And if the season ended today, count the Shockers in.