Wichita State's perfect season builds toward stunning climax

Wichita State has back-to-back 30-win seasons. That’s never happened.

The Shockers are one game away from finishing the Missouri Valley Conference season unbeaten. That’s never happened.

WSU finished off Bradley on Tuesday night by 20 points and now has 59 conference wins in the past four seasons. That’s never happened.

This incredible ride just keeps going, like a Ferris wheel stuck at the top. The Shockers aren’t coming down any time soon. They are 30-0, ranked No. 2 in the country and the rage of college basketball pundits from sea to shining sea.

There is a mix of confusion, awe, doubt and disbelief about what Wichita State is doing. Its accomplishments are muddled by a weak conference, yet it’s impossible not to be impressed.

The Shockers do all the things great teams do. They’re unselfish and pay attention to the smallest of details. They defend. They not only play angry, but a little bit scared of how their coach, Gregg Marshall, might react to the slightest letdown.

There is a precision about this team that is enjoyable to watch. The Shockers make the extra pass, dive after loose balls, help teammates out defensively. They do all the things coaches try to instill in young players, except that most of the time those coaches are unable to get the consistency they desire.

Wichita State is consistent and has been for a while now.

Marshall’s teams have won 25, 29, 27, 30 and 30 games over the past five seasons. That’s 31 more victories than any previous five-season stretch in Shocker history and there’s still some season remaining. Who knows how much? Wouldn’t you love to know how much?

Wichita State is 71-18 in the Missouri Valley Conference the past five seasons. That’s eight more Valley wins than in any five-season stretch previously.

The Shockers have finished second, second, first, second and first in the MVC the past five years after finishing first or second three times in the previous 20 years.

Bradley is just the latest Valley victim of a Wichita State blowout. Of Wichita State’s 59 conference wins the past four seasons, 45 have been by double digits.

Shocker fans are living through the greatest stretch of basketball in Wichita State history, dominance only partially drowned out by the ongoing debate about how good this really is in a lackluster conference.

Do you trust your eyes? If so, there’s no questioning the validity of the Shockers. They’re one of 10 to 15 teams in the country this season, this particularly balanced season, that could win a national championship in Arlington, Texas, in early April.

That’s what my eyes tell me.

But because it’s been such an unreal season — 30-0? Are you serious? — we’re all busy trying to find the warts. Otherwise, we have to come to grips with the fact that Wichita State could become the first team since Indiana in 1976, and just the eighth in history, to finish a season unbeaten. San Francisco and Bill Russell did it once in 1956. North Carolina followed suit in 1957. And UCLA, coached by the most iconic figure in the history of the game, John Wooden, did it four times from 1964-73.

Wichita State could join that club?

Nobody wants to think about it, yet it’s the kind of thing that seeps into people’s minds when they’re shopping for squash at the grocery store or paying their water bill. “Unbeaten” is such a forceful term, reserved for the best of the best. It signifies perfection and since when in anything in Wichita ever been perfect?

Or anywhere else, for that matter. Perfection is fleeting yet the chase never ceases.

And to think that as the very last few days of February tick away, Wichita State is still perfect.

If the Shockers beat Missouri State on Saturday at Koch Arena — and does anybody doubt that will happen? — they will become the first Missouri Valley Conference team in 28 years to roll through the league unbeaten. Bradley and Hersey Hawkins did it then, 13 years after Indiana State and Larry Bird went 16-0 at Indiana State.

Wichita State doesn’t have a Hawkins or a Bird. The Shockers are more subtle. But they’re doing it convincingly, even with so little credit.

It was obvious the Valley belonged to WSU early on. Except for going into survival mode at Missouri State in January and pulling out an overtime win, the Shockers have breezed. They really haven’t been pushed since that game in Springfield, winning the last 13 games by an average of 16 points.

Wichita State is doing things that have never been done in more than a century of Shocker basketball. Question this team all you want. But stop every now and then to consider the scope of these accomplishments.

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