College Basketball Preseason Top 25: #13 Wichita State

Cleanthony Early and the Shockers were the story of March Madness in 2013. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Cleanthony Early and the Shockers were the story of March Madness in 2013. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

13. Wichita State Shockers

If any further argument needed to be made to the disbelieving geezers and BCS snobs that the best mid-majors can absolutely play with the the top teams in the country, Wichita State closed the book on it last season. The Shockers dominated Ohio State in the Elite Eight, leading by as many as 20 and holding on for a remarkable, convincing win. They then nearly knocked off eventual champion Louisville in the national semifinals, leading for a large chunk of the game before stumbling down the stretch and losing by just four. All of this was made even more incredible by the fact that 2013 was supposed to be a “building” year, with injuries and graduation losses supposedly hitting WSU hard.

Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY Sports

Early could be a first-round pick in the NBA Draft next year. (Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY Sports)

That didn’t phase head coach Gregg Marshall, who has done a masterful job in Wichita, and just might be one of the best coaches in the game. He’s got plenty of talent returning for 2014, including 6-8 forward Cleanthony Early, who broke out as a tournament star last spring. Early (13.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg) out-dueled Louisville’s bigs in the national semis, and his perimeter game and length could make him a first-round NBA draft pick. Also back are sophomore guards Ron Baker and Fred Van Vleet, both of whom came up huge in the NCAAs, as well as junior guard Tekele Cotton, who can lock down just about anybody in the country. The Shockers are a little thin up front, as Early stands as their tallest player at 6-9.

WSU must also replace the gritty, gutty forward Carl Hall (12.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg) whose commitment to basketball after battling a heart condition was inspiring. Point guard Malcolm Armstead, who ran the team brilliantly (10.7 ppg, 4 apg, 3.8 rpg) is also gone. It won’t be easy to replace either of them.

BOTTOM LINE: Wichita State may have ‘shocked’ the nation last year (sorry, we had to do it at some point), but they won’t sneak up on anyone in 2014. There’s enough holdover talent here for the Wheatshockers to be nationally relevant again, and a Missouri Valley title looks like a lock. Still, it’s difficult to ask any team to replace players like Armstead and Hall without any hiccups. If Marshall wasn’t such a great coach, and Early wasn’t such a terrific player, we wouldn’t be as confident in Wichita State. But they are, and that’s why we’ve got them at No. 13.

Click here to see our Entire Top 25.

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