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Kentucky Stuffed Wichita State on Its Final Two Possessions

When it all comes down to one-on-one, go with the blue-chippers

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

Wichita State vs. Kentucky should not have been a second-round game. It shouldn’t have been a second-round game in 2014, when the 35–0 Shockers were felled by a wildly talented Wildcat team that went on to the national championship game.

And it shouldn’t have been this year, when both teams ranked in the top seven of Ken Pomeroy’s ratings. That made this a should-be Elite Eight matchup. Instead, the selection committee seeded the Shockers 10th. Dayton’s coach knew this was wrong, Kentucky coach John Calipari knew this was wrong, and after this game — in which the Wildcats edged the Shockers, 65–62 — hopefully you know it was wrong, too. No team led by more than seven at any point, and the Shockers had two chances to win or tie late. But both chances were stymied by Kentucky.

On Wichita State’s second-to-last possession, the shot clock was ticking and Shaq Morris couldn’t get anything going in the post. So he dished out to Markis McDuffie, a 6-foot-8 forward who assumed he could shoot over 6-foot-3 guard Malik Monk. He was wrong:

That left the Shockers down three with seven seconds to go. Backcourt pressure by Kentucky kept Wichita State’s Landry Shamet from getting the ball across quickly, leaving him only a few seconds to shoot. Kentucky’s Dominique Hawkins didn’t give him an inch. And poor spacing by Shockers guard Conner Frankamp meant that his man, Kentucky center Edrice Adebayo, was able to double Shamet without losing Frankamp. You probably know him better as “Bam,” and this is why:

There’s a common theme to both of Wichita State’s final plays: They had no purpose. Gregg Marshall might be one of college basketball’s best coaches, but he didn’t save a timeout to draw up a late-game play. (Guys, using up all your timeouts is bad.)

That’s why the spacing was so poor, and why each play seemed so aimless. In the most critical moments of Wichita State’s season, their players were improvising, trying to create one-on-one.

Wichita State was operating on sheer desperation. Sports clichés tell us that in these situations, the team with more grit or heart or hustle wins. But when things go one-on-one, I’ll take John Calipari’s players.

That said, Wichita State once again showed it was a team capable of hanging with a national title contender. The Shockers will return every meaningful player in their rotation — none are seniors, none are NBA prospects — and will likely be as good next year.

The committee will probably reward them with a 9-seed.