Wichita State-Kentucky, Not Your Typical 10-2 Matchup
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INDIANAPOLIS – To hear Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall tell it, in 2014 when his Shockers were a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and undefeated entering the postseason, you were either on one side of the fence or the other, but there was no in between.
|Kentucky vs. Wichita State|
|UK||2016-17 Team Stats||WSU|
|.305||Opp 3PT FG%||.309|
There was one camp that felt like the Shockers were deserving of a No. 1 seed and all the praise that they did receive. The other camp said Wichita State was overrated and didn’t face the grueling schedule that many of the other top schools played.
Kentucky, which was the preseason No. 1 team in the country that season, struggled through much of the year with highly regarded yet inexperienced talent. UK was given a No. 8 seed, which many felt was far too low, in the same regional as Wichita State. The two schools met in the round of 32 in what wound up being one of the great college basketball games in recent memory, and UK won 78-76.
“In the end, it took a loss to validate our team,” Marshall said, “which I think is really ironic and sad.”
No validation will be necessary when the two schools meet again Sunday at approximately 2:40 p.m. ET at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, nearly three years to the day from that fateful game.
In a role reversal of sorts with No. 2 seed Kentucky (30-5) facing what appears to be an underseeded No. 10 Wichita State (31-4), the respect is already earned, at least in the eyes of the Wildcats.
“You're going to have an opponent that absolutely believes they can beat you,” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said. “They're coming at you and they're not going to give you an inch. Do you want it any other way? We know how hard the game is going to be. This is a Sweet 16, Elite Eight game that we're playing. But that's OK.”
Wichita State, which was won at least one game in the NCAA Tournament in each of the past five seasons, has lost just one game this season since mid-December and enters Sunday’s game with the longest winning streak in the country at 16 games. Kentucky, coincidentally, has the second longest active win streak at 12 games.
The Shockers are the sixth most efficient team in the country, per KenPom.com, just one spot behind Kentucky in the rankings. A balanced, physical team, Wichita State ranks in the top 15 nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency.
Want more proof that the Shockers are different than your typical 10-seed? Including Sunday’s game between No. 6 seed Cincinnati and third-seeded UCLA, the WSU-UK matchup will be just the third time in the history of the NCAA Tournament that two 30-win teams will meet on the opening weekend.
“I know how good they are,” Calipari said. “I know how talented they are. I know they're veteran. I know how tough. I've got to worry about my team playing their best. If they don't do that, then it's done. If we play our best, let's see if that's good enough. We don't know. We'll see, though.”
The Shockers advanced to the second round after defeating seventh-seeded Dayton 64-58 in a slugfest of a basketball game. Afterward, Flyers head coach Archie Miller said the Shockers were closer to a four seed than a 10.
“Like a four seed, like a four or five seed maybe,” Miller said of the Shockers. “Thirty-some wins and you look at the numbers across the board, I mean, every coach studies the analytics. They're a team that can beat anybody on a neutral court at any time, and I wouldn't be surprised if they weren't pushing towards another second weekend. They're a great team, and they're really well coached, maybe as fun of a team to prepare for as we've had.”
Wichita State is led by 6-foot-8 forward Markis McDuffie, who faced off against Kentucky guard Isaiah Briscoe in high school in the state championship. As a sophomore, McDuffie was named to the All-Missouri Valley Conference First Team, averaging a team-high 11.7 points and 5.7 rebounds per game.
Then there’s Landry Shamet, a 6-4 guard who earned MVC Freshman of the Year and First Team All-MVC honors after averaging 11.2 points and a team-high 3.3 assists per game. Shamet assumed point-guard responsibilities in January and the Shockers have played their best since.
“He's really good,” Calipari said of Shamet. “He's fearless. He's not afraid, can shoot it, runs their team. He's good. He's a good player.”
“We're going to have to have a heck of a game to win the game, we know that, and play better than we played (Friday) to win the game,” Coach Cal added. “They're talented. They're big. They're physical. They're strong. They're veterans. Good team.”
After playing the role of underdog three years ago, Kentucky will now be the favorite working hard to flip the script and avoid the same fate as the Shockers. Underseeded or not, none of that matters anymore as the two teams meet once again. If the formula holds true from their first and only other meeting, it should be another game to remember.
“It's the kind of game that's just a competitive – you know what it's going to be, and you love walking into those kind of games, know how good they are,” Calipari said. “You got an unbelievable opponent who plays with heart and fight and battles, and you bring your team in, your young team, and say let's see what we are. Let's see what we are at that point.
“Our team has gotten better. We really have. But still, there are gaps. And if you have a gap against this team, it will be bam, bam, bam, bam, timeout. What just happened to us? Let's get this back in order.
So, I'm looking forward to it just because I know how good they are. It's going to be a hard game, and I want to see how my young guys respond.”