February is where perfect records go to die -- and yet here are the Shockers, alive and well
FEB 20, 2014 12:17a ET
Several good thesauruses have died in the cause of trying to find just the right word for February. We'll just settle on the uncouth term for a female dog and call it a day. It fits.
And it fits because of nights like Wednesday, when college basketball gets all sideways, funky, and upside down. There's a reason no Division I men's hoops team has posted an unbeaten regular season in a decade. Because February happens, there's no way of getting around it, and February is ... well, it's an uncouth term for a female dog. It just is.
Out east, Boston College -- 7-19 Boston College, with an RPI rank of No. 188 going in -- showed up in Syracuse and upset the top-ranked Orange in overtime, 62-59. Down south, No. 2 Florida weathered a push from 12-12 Auburn (RPI: 152) at home and won, 71-66.
Ah, yes. February. Focus wavers. February is when "A" games become fleeting, when the good teams put one eye on March and the other eye starts to wander.
But not in Wichita.
While No. 1 was falling and No. 2 was teetering, the No. 3 Shockers toyed with Loyola on Chicago's North Side the way a cat toys with a mouse. Wichita State pulled away with an 88-74 victory to push its record to 28-0, 15-0 in the Missouri Valley Conference.
Syracuse's loss leaves the Shockers as the nation's last unbeaten, all alone at the top of the mountain.
Only Drake (RPI: 164) at home, Bradley (247) in Peoria and Missouri State (114) at home stand between Wichita and the first unbeaten regular season in major-college hoops since the Saint Joseph's Hawks of 2003-04.
That Hawks team put up a banner.
This one will, too.
Coach Gregg Marshall's posse keeps smashing milestones the way Pete Townshend used to smash guitars. The Shox became just the 18th Division I squad ever to open a season 28-0. It's the best start in the NCAA since Illinois went 29-0 to open 2004-05 under Bruce Weber. Bonus, and this is the biggie: Wichita is the first MVC crew to be the last Division I unbeaten since the Larry Bird-led Indiana State crew of 1979.
That team became iconic.
This one will be, too.
Hell, they're already there: Five Shockers -- Cleanthony Early, Tekele Cotton, Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker and Chadrack Lufile -- are front-and-center on a regional Sports Illustrated cover this week, surrounding a giant headline that reads:
GO AHEAD, TRY TO
The Ramblers (9-18, 4-11 MVC) tried -- only to run out of gas, the way most Valley rosters have when the Shockers decide to kick that pedal all the way to the floor. Wichita began the second half with a 13-4 run to open up some breathing space; a layup by VanVleet (22 points, eight boards, six assists), the Joe-Cool point guard who hails from nearby Rockford, Ill., stretched the Shockers' lead to 52-36 with 15:45 to go.
The Play-Angry Gang outrebounded Loyola by 17 and worked the Ramblers inside as often as space allowed. Nine Wichita players logged at least 10 minutes; eight netted at least three points.
The Ramblers' leading scorer, freshman guard Milton Doyle, was shadowed by Cotton, the Shockers' defensive ace, early on, and collected just six points in the first half with three turnovers. The hosts shot just 13-of-31 over the first 20 minutes and whiffed on nine of their first 10 3-point attempts. It wasn't a great night in Shoxville -- Marshall's crew still has issues, on occasion, defending against the dribble-drive -- as much as it was businesslike.
But in February, in this league, businesslike works. More often than not, businesslike will do.
Still, that concentration, that level of attention, is difficult to harness and a beast to maintain, week after week, bus after bus. Syracuse had been living dangerously for a while now, yet Marshall seemed genuinely stunned after the game when informed by the Cox 22 television crew that the Orange had laid an egg at home.
"Did they?" the coach responded in an incredulous tone.
But when told it was the Eagles, at the Carrier Dome, Marshall sounded anything but dumbstruck.
After all, it's February. The dog days.
Weird things happen in the dog days, man.
"You have to show up to play," he told the Channel 22 crew. "I don't care who it is or where it is ... that's why 28-and-oh, Adrian-Peterson-and-oh, is pretty cool."
Eric-Berry-and-oh would be even cooler. And Priest-Holmes-and-oh would be the stuff of legend.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at email@example.com.