Hate the journey, but don’t hate the playa: Wichita’s 31-0 Shockers are now a part of history
They’ll point to 105. Of course they will. The pundits, the doubters, that "Hallelujah" chorus of haters. That’s the ranking of Wichita State’s strength of schedule.
They’ll point to two. The Jayhawks people, especially. As in the number of Shockers wins over teams ranked within the Ratings Percentage Index top 50.
They’ll point to 11. The Creighton people, in particular. As in the Missouri Valley Conference’s RPI as league.
But there’s one number they won’t point to: Zero.
As in losses.
Zip, nada, nothing, naught, zilch, zip, aught, cipher.
A big, fat, beautiful goose egg.
There’s no denying Wichita State made history Saturday in a 68-45 home rout of Missouri State, closing the books on a 31-0 regular season, the first of its kind since Saint Joseph’s 10 years ago, and a perfect record in the MVC (18-0), the first in league annals since Bradley in 1986.
Facts are facts, and those facts are indisputable. Those satisfactions, as the late, great actor Warren Oates once opined in the movie "Two-Lane Blacktop," are permanent.
Unfortunately, so are the naysayers, the doubt, the framing of a colossally objective achievement — the Shox are just the eighth Division I men’s program to open a season with 31 straight victories, and the first since UNLV in 1991 — in a subjective context.
Namely, that Wichita is standing on top of college basketball’s mountain only because it climbed on a giant pile of cupcakes to get there.
Of the Shockers’ 31 wins, 12 were over teams ranked 151 or worse in the RPI. Florida had nine such victories as of Saturday morning. Arizona had six; Kansas, three; Syracuse, eight; Villanova, five; Creighton, the bunch Shox fans used to love to hate the most in the MVC before their leap to the Big East, four. The ’04 Hawks of Saint Joe’s racked up eight such wins in their 29-0 regular season.
But here’s the thing: Of those 12 "soft" wins, the dozen which the skeptics say are too many, 10 came in MVC play.
In other words, games coach Gregg Marshall couldn’t get out of, games over which he had no control.
It wasn’t his idea to swap two dates with Loyola (RPI: 283) in place of the Jays (RPI: 6), nor was it his fault that Drake (164), Southern Illinois (207), Evansville (238) and Bradley (249) turned into Moe, Larry, Curly and Shemp.
All he knew was that he had to beat them. And he did.
Hate on the track all you want.
Don’t hate the car.
Admire the consistency, the focus, the methodical effort — some games more methodical than others — night after night.
"We had a great group of guys that were committed and unselfish and challenging of one another to hold every player to the same standard and expectations of what Saint Joe’s basketball was all about," Rob Sullivan, then a walk-on guard on that ’04 team and now the Hawks’ director of basketball operations, says of the unbeaten Shockers. "And I can see the same (essence) in Wichita State this year. It’s really holding every player (and person) accountable, from the coaches on down."
It’s about taking care of business, keeping your eye on the ball when there are more reasons than ever for those eyes to wander. Social networks. Twitter. Instagram. If Facebook were around when Indiana was chasing 32-0 in 1976, Bob Knight would’ve tried to strangle Mark Zuckerberg the way Homer Simpson strangles Bart.
They weathered the crush of traditional media, too. The cover of Sports Illustrated. The Shox went from flyover afterthought on the national nightly sportscasts to the first segment, the top of the hour.
Yet here they are, unscathed. Still.
"The only team to ever go 31-0 and have an undefeated regular season," Marshall told his team in the locker room before the tip. "That’s what you’re shooting for (Saturday), to have that number attached to you."
And now it will be. Forever.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.