There’s a strange feeling associated with watching a game like Wichita State’s win over Dayton on Friday afternoon.
It was a great matchup between two teams that anyone should like to see play each other: the Missouri Valley champions against the Atlantic 10 regular-season champions, owners of a combined 54 wins entering the NCAA Tournament, with recent success in the Big Dance under highly regarded coaches. These are teams that aren’t in the most powerful conferences, but they play like they are, and they rewarded viewers with an intense, physical game that went down to the wire.
What’s the complaint? In a just bracket, the Shockers and Flyers wouldn’t have to play each other in the first round, sending one home after just one game.
In this case, it’s Dayton going home, as Wichita State won 64-58 in a closely contested matchup in Indianapolis that featured shooting struggles but also excellent defense from both teams. This game was not as pretty as the Michigan-Oklahoma State shootout staged on the same floor earlier in the afternoon, but it had plenty of charm, two well-coached teams going back-and-forth until Wichita State took control late.
Wichita State was a No. 10 seed, widely regarded as the most underseeded team in the entire tournament. After all, it was ranked No. 6 in the KenPom ratings entering Friday’s game. The problem was that there was a wide margin between the Shockers’ performance and their resume, which featured one win (South Dakota State) over a tournament team and losses in the biggest nonconference games against Louisville, Michigan State and Oklahoma State. (The Shockers beat LSU and Oklahoma in down seasons for both.)
Thus, somehow stuck on the bubble despite winning 30 games, Wichita State became the unfortunate first-round opponent of Dayton, a good No. 7 seed stuck playing an “underdog” that plays more like a No. 4 or 5 seed than a 10. It feels like a typical college sports move, making the non-power conference teams play each other instead of giving them a chance to prove themselves against the bigger names that get the benefit of the doubt in the bracket.
Alas, we were left to feel sympathy for both teams while enjoying the fact that they did share the court in one of the best games of the first round, one that had intensity that will be hard to match.
Wichita State currently hosting a block party, free entry too. pic.twitter.com/JxoMor6SeI
– LeadingNCAA ™ (@LeadingNCAA) March 18, 2017
– NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 18, 2017
– Sports Illustrated (@SInow) March 18, 2017
Wichita State’s defense had eight blocks; Dayton’s forced 16 turnovers. Both Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall and perhaps especially Dayton coach Archie Miller will be speculated about for the vacant Indiana job. For Miller, the speculation will take off now that Dayton has been eliminated.
For Marshall, the March Madness dreams are still alive, and now there’s a matter of an underseeded Wichita State getting one of the biggest possible second-round challenges, against No. 2 seed Kentucky — which beat the undefeated Shockers when the roles were reversed in 2014.
It’s an enticing, exciting matchup. Like Friday, though, it’s just too bad it has to happen so soon.