Wichita State throttles Creighton to seize control of MVC race

In a year in which we've celebrated Murray State's unbeaten record, Harvard's high-major talent and Creighton's baby-faced star, none of those three teams may be the nation's best mid-major.

That honor may belong to Wichita State.

At the very least, the Shockers deserve to be in the conversation along with Saint Mary's after blasting now-reeling Creighton 89-68 on Saturday night in front of 18,000 stunned Bluejays fans in Omaha. Wichita State (22-4, 11-2) should enter the Top 25 on Monday and is complete control of the Missouri Valley race, holding a two-game lead on Creighton with just three conference games remaining.

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It's difficult to explain why Wichita State hasn't received more attention in recent weeks considering the Shockers have been neck-and-neck with the Bluejays in the conference standings all season.

Perhaps it's because they lost to the Bluejays at home in January. Perhaps it's because a throttling of UNLV was their lone standout non-league win. Perhaps it's because they boast a balanced attack featuring six players averaging 8.8 or more points per game instead of a high-scoring All-American candidate like Doug McDermott.

Regardless, Wichita State isn't a team that should be discounted in March. The Shockers are flat-out good — no big revelation considering they average 1.14 points per possession (14th-best in the nation) and yield just 0.92 points per possession (29th-best in the nation). 

Seven footer Garrett Stutz has more than doubled his scoring and rebounding averages since last season, leading the Shockers in both categories and forcing most opponents in the league to double-team him in the post. And in the backcourt, Toure Murray has shown an ability to get to the rim or the foul line against even the best defenders and Joe Ragland is shooting 47.1 percent from behind the arc.

The result is a balanced, efficient offense that can be lethal when all its components are clicking at once. Wichita State didn't even need much production from Stutz against Creighton to pile up 89 points thanks to 8-for-16 three-point shooting fueled by Ragland and forward Ben Smith.

What should be the goal for Wichita State the next few weeks is to play its way into a favorable NCAA tournament seed. A No. 5 seed certainly is within reach for the Shockers if they can win their final four regular season games including a BracketBusters road trip to Davidson on Saturday.

With that seed, the Shockers are fully capable of a run to the second week of the NCAA tournament — if not more. And if that happens, they'd receive more than enough publicity to make up for a regular season in which they've flown under the radar.

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