Shockers in a Good, but Not Great Position to Earn NCAA At-Large Spot

Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall has his team close to the NCAA Tournament. (Courtesy photo)

It is easy to panic over losses as March approaches and NCAA Tournament bracket projections take on more importance.

There is now almost a full season’s body of work to evaluate and the time to rally is drawing to a close. Wichita State (20-7, 8-6 American Athletic Conference) owns an NCAA-worthy resume entering Thursday’s game against Temple (14-13, 6-8) at Koch Arena (7 p.m., ESPN).

Wichita State does not need to panic. It holds a spot that most of college basketball envies – likely in charge of its own fate. If it wins most of its remaining games, it should be an at-large team.

However, the Shockers are nowhere close to securely in the field of 68. With four regular-season games remaining, two wins are probably necessary and a third would help their case and lessen the importance of the American Athletic Conference Tournament.

Don’t overlook the absence of bad losses. That helps their resume significantly. The Shockers need to maintain that while adding a few more helpful wins.

This is all obvious to the Shockers, so much so coach Gregg Marshall feels no need to add to their burden by talking about the NCAA Tournament bubble.

“Win as many games as we can – it comes down to that,” Marshall said.

“We’re 20-7 now with no bad losses. We just need to win as many games as we can. That’s what I keep telling them.”

On Sunday, the Shockers lost another close game, 67-64 at Cincinnati. While losing on the road to a good opponent didn’t do irreversible damage to their NCAA resume, it narrowed the margin for error. The fact – like a home loss to Cincinnati and a loss at Tulsa – it came in the final seconds adds to the frustration for fans.

Wichita State center Jaime Echenique doesn’t want a return to the NIT (Courtesy photo)

Senior center Jaime Echenique is also frustrated. He is the lone Shocker taking a final shot at the NCAA Tournament.

“I have a sense of urgency right now,” he said earlier this season. “I’ve never gone to an NCAA Tournament, but I want to go. I want to enjoy the experience. We went to the NIT last year, but it wasn’t the right tournament for us.”

Wichita State fans aren’t alone in their worry. Grabbing one of the 36 at-large spots isn’t solely about your team’s wins and losses. It is also about other teams and some will play themselves out of consideration.

Should we regard the Shockers as a team that has won three of four and is favored to win three of its final four, according to kenpom.com? That likely keeps the Shockers in the NCAA at-large field.

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Or, is Wichita State a team that has lost four of its last seven games and missed its last best chance in the regular season to make a big move with the loss at Cincinnati?

Either way, the Shockers are like a lot of teams fighting to stay in the at-large conversation.

Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com considers the Shockers a No. 12 seed. That puts them in a group with teams such as North Carolina State (losers of two straight, three of four and six of nine), Rutgers (losers of three straight, four of five and six of eight) and Southern Cal (which lost to Temple at home and is losers two in a row and five of seven).

ESPN’s Joe Lunardi slots the Shockers at a No. 11 seed. Their counterparts include Providence (which lost to Northwestern, Penn, Long Beach State and Charleston in November) and Oklahoma (losers to the Shockers in November and losers of three of their past four).

Wichita State’s push to March continues on Thursday vs. Temple. While the Shockers don’t need to be perfect the rest of the way, they need to come close.

Upcoming Events

Watch Air Force vs. Wichita State Shockers baseball on Yurview Kansas (Cox Ch. 2022) – Tuesday, Mar. 3 and Wednesday, Mar. 4 at 3:00 pm CT.  Then Louisiana Tech vs. Wichita State baseball on Friday, Mar. 6 at 3:00 pm CT.