NCAA Tournament Predictions: 1. Wichita State vs. 16. Texas Southern or 16. Cal Poly

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Ron Baker

Ron Baker and the Shockers have what it takes to win it all. (Jeff Roberson/AP)

1 Wichita State Shockers (34-0, 18-0 Missouri Valley)- Pick against the Shockers at your own peril. As the first team to navigate the regular season undefeated since UNLV in 1991, Wichita State, like a Vlade Divac jersey, commands respect.

At 34-0, the Shockers are without a doubt the most scrutinized team in the tournament. No, the Missouri Valley isn’t the Big 12 or the ACC, but it is a legitimate conference and Wichita State is a legitimate juggernaut. You don’t just get to the Final Four by accident. And you don’t run the table by accident.

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Early is one of the best power forwards in the country. (Getty Images)

This is virtually the same squad that led Louisville for the majority of the game in the national semis last season, only more experienced. Four players average in double figures for the Shockers, led by NBA prospect and senior forward Cleanthony Early (6-8, 219 lbs).

Early leads the team in scoring (15.9 ppg) and rebounding (5.9 rpg), and is a major threat on the block. He’s as good a power forward as there is in the country, and could start for virtually any team in D-1. Sophomore guard Ron Baker (13.1 ppg, 3.1 apg, 3.6 rpg) is a tough, gritty guard who makes clutch shots and plays tremendous defense (1.5 spg). He’s a threat to knock down a big three late in a game, as he did last season in WSU’s upset of Gonzaga. Baker shoots the triple at 37%.

Fellow sophomore Fred Van Vleet has shown incredible toughness and guile, and at 5-11, is one of the better point guards in the nation. He’s also one of the most improved players in the country, averaging 12.1 points and 5.3 assists per game. He’s also a three-point threat and made some memorable shots in Wichita State’s upset of Gonzaga last season as well.

Junior guard Tekele Cotton (10.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg) is also dangerous, and can go off for 20 at any time. He’s also a terrific defender, averaging 1.4 steals per game. He went for 21 and 7 steals in a February win over Drake.

When considering whether to pick the Shockers to get upset early, think about this. Boston College was a pretty crappy team this season, and they beat Syracuse. Tennessee wasn’t all that, and they destroyed Virginia by 35. And Florida lost to a mediocre UConn team. Wichita State played plenty of teams as good as BC, Tennessee and UConn, and they beat them all.

The last time a team from a non-BCS conference went undefeated through 29 games, they received a lot of flak for getting a 1-seed. And that 2004 Saint Joseph’s squad went right out and proved it belonged by reaching the Elite Eight and coming within a John Lucas Jr. shot of the Final Four.

This Wichita State team is for real. Be warned.


Points per Possession 10th (1.13)

Points Allowed per Game 12th (59.6)

Rebounds per Game 17th (26.7)

Points Allowed per Possession 10th (0.9)

Team Stat Sheet

3WbYP.AuSt.76Cal Poly Mustangs (13-19, 6-10 Big West)- This is one of those Cinderella stories that you love to see each March, as the Mustangs came out of nowhere and captured their first-ever Big West title with three wins in four days. Seventh-seeded Cal Poly crushed second-seeded UC-Santa Barbara, 69-38, in what may have been the most shocking result of championship week. The Mustangs then took out top seed UC-Irvine, 61-58 in the semifinals before edging fellow cellar dweller Cal State-Northridge in a bizarre Big West final.

The scene on the court post-game was a thing of beauty, as these overachievers from a nerdy polytechnical school had just achieved something they will remember for the rest of their lives. They’re going to the Big Dance, the biggest stage in college basketball, and no one will ever be able to take that away from them.

Do they have a shot at continuing their Cinderella story into the Round of 32? No. But that’s not the point.

Two players average in double figures for the Mustangs, who rank near the bottom of the country offensively. Chicago native Chris Eversley leads the team at 13.6 ppg.


327th Points per Game (63.2)

319th Field Goal Percentage (.310)

297th Rebounds per Game (32.3)


txso-aaric-murray-v-temple-3-1Texas Southern (19-14, 12-6 SWAC)- The Tigers have been the class of the SWAC for the past two seasons, but weren’t allowed to play in the NCAA Tournament last year because of poor APR scores. Texas Southern made noise early in the season when 6-10 senior center Aaric Murray (a West Virginia transfer) went for 48 in a win at Temple. It was one of the most amazing performances of the non-conference season.

Murray (21.2 ppg, 7.7 rpg) was named the SWAC Player of the Year and will be the main point of focus for whomever faces the Tigers in the NCAAs. He is a legitimate high-major player on a low-major team. Texas Southern also has a veteran coach in Mike Davis, who once took the Indiana Hoosiers to the national championship game in 2002.

Besides Murray, who shoots 48.5% and 74% from the free throw line, the Tigers rely on senior guard D.D. Scarver, who averages 13.2 points per game. 6-7 junior forward Jose Rodriguez (11.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg) is also a threat.


56th Points per Game (76.2)

65th Rebounds per Game (37.1)

81st Field Goal Percentage (46.1%)


PREDICTION: Wichita State


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