By Matt Norlander
Before we begin, I must say, if you've come here looking for the latest scorching sports take on Wichita State getting a No. 1 seed, know that I refuse to discuss Wichita State as a No. 1 seed. It's an empty debate; a waste of your time. Gregg Marshall's squad is getting that honor with three more wins in the Missouri Valley tournament, no matter what you've heard the anti-Shockers crowd prop up against that notion.
You see what the rest of the top teams in the country have been doing in the past week or so? Syracuse has dropped three of four. Michigan State, once a title favorite, has mirrored Syracuse's losing pattern and seems almost as overrated (albeit with injuries) as Kentucky. Kansas fell at Oklahoma State on Saturday night, tallying its seventh loss in 29 games. And even Duke doesn't have a great case, what with it already owning losses to Kansas, Syracuse, North Carolina and Arizona.
Heck, Wichita State might still get a No. 1 seed even with a loss. If the team is dropped in the Missouri Valley tournament (it has actually never won the playoff since the MVC has held it in St. Louis) then, and only then, should we engage in a parley on if this squad has a right to the top line.
So let's just please move on from that vapid bull session. Instead, I think we've got to discuss the next unfortunate step in this evolution of silly Shocker schadenfreude: the invariable, inevitable loss.
It is coming. (And that's OK!) For as much as I love this story, Wichita State is going to lose at some point in the next 39 days. I don't believe this is the incontrovertible best team in the country, and as much I so badly want to see it, I don't believe this is the year that ends the drought of an unbeaten national title team, which of course dates back to the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers.
I stop and allow myself to picture that, to see this team climbing a ladder, confetti a mess around the Final Four court. The team has gotten to 40-0 and become perhaps the best story in all of sports in 2014. It's absolutely phenomenal.
But it's a figment, I'm afraid.
What's much more plausible is that, with more than 75 percent of its schedule in the rear-view, Wichita State is moving closer to a loss. When that comes, or even if two of them happen to occur, know this: The outcome will not invalidate Wichita State as a team nor will it cancel out all the winning that has preceded it. Because 31-0 is a powerful thing. It's a number that will live on in the Missouri Valley forever. In a surprisingly delightful turn of events, few people on Saturday were actually killing the Shockers for having an undefeated season. (Though a pack of these odd creatures did show themselves on Twitter -- the most sophisticated breeding ground for illuminating discourse, naturally -- after the Shockers won.) What still remains evident is the urge/want that so many have to see Wichita State lose.
As if the next loss will validate the hate. Corroborate the doubt.
This season is already legendary. Wichita State could lose in the first round of the Missouri Valley tournament, then lose in the Round of 64, and it still would be an amazing, memorable, terrific season. Would there be disappointment? Unquestionably. Would a lot of people take peculiar glee in seeing an upstart, humble group of players be knocked off all too early? Yeah -- and it'd be a bad look.
But would the season be a failure if this happened? Uh, not at all. For a program at Wichita State's level -- an ascending power with a growing, respected national reputation -- in no way can winning more than 31 games and earning a No. 1 or No. 2 seed be viewed as anything short of success. Amazing success. Probably-can't-repeat-this-for-decades success.
Because Saturday's 68-45 win over Missouri State gave college basketball only its seventh wire-to-wire unbeaten team in the regular season in the past 38 years. This is an incredible achievement, and yet I still am not convinced it's being treated with the regard it deserves.
Don't get me wrong: plenty have stood and clapped over this, but it feels like this would be a bigger deal if it were Gonzaga or Butler or Florida, right? I think the way it happened -- so dominantly, and without any real drama except for one game -- has made some of us overlook just how stupendous the feat is. Wichita State, somehow, has made going unbeaten look easy. Incredible.
It's been a decade (St. Joseph's in 2004) since another team did it, and given the bellicose climate of modern college basketball, we very well could have to wait more than a decade before we see something like this happen again. Even St. Joe's couldn't pull off entering the NCAA tourney without a scratch; Phil Martelli's team was promptly clipped in the first round of the A-10 tourney by Xavier, and we should all keep that fact fully in mind as the MVC gets going this week.
Point is, undefeated seasons in any sport are timeless and something to celebrate, not something to nitpick. Sports fans will remember Wichita State going forward, no matter what happens from here on out, for doing this. Winning a league title means a hell of a lot to a fan base, to a team, to a coaching staff. It means even more when you do it without a loss. And to have this season attached to last year's team, which went to the Final Four and in fact led the eventual national champions by double digits in the second half? You're damn right the legacy has already been established.
It'd be great to see Wichita State get back to the Final Four, but that's not an easy thing to do. Most teams, in fact, fail to do it. If the Shockers don't get there, it has zero bearing or judgment on this team's talent or achievements. Let the triumph stand for itself: Going undefeated from November into March is astounding. There's more media, pressure, noise and distraction in 2014 than there was even in 2004.
Story of the year in college basketball, and all some want to do is rip away at it. But if it were so easy to win a mid-major league or go through a season undefeated, we'd see more teams do it.
But we don't. Because it has never been harder and seasons have never been longer than they are now. You know how many teams have had a chance to pen an undefeated season in college basketball since St. Joe's did it? The answer is 3,419. Three thousand, four hundred and 19 other groups could not do this since the season following 2003-04.
Whether you want to respect or prop up Wichita State or not, the deeds have already been done. This team is for the books, and we'll never forget what it gave college basketball in 2014.
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Matt Norlander is a contributor to Sports on Earth and a writer at CBSSports.com. He lives in Connecticut and is equal parts obsessed with sports and music. Follow him on Twitter: @MattNorlander.