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Friday, February 14, 2014
Weekend homework: Shockers' Kryptonite?

By Dana O'Neil

Everyone, it seems, has an opinion about Wichita State. The Shockers aren’t just one of the two hottest teams in the nation; they are the hot-button team.

Can they finish the regular season undefeated?

Do they deserve a No. 1 seed if they win out?

Before its game Tuesday, Wichita State got some sage advice about how to handle all the white noise that’s growing louder every day.

Kirstie Alley, a Wichita, Kan., native and tabloid fodder survivor for much of her career, popped in the locker room and told the Shockers to ignore their reviews, the good and the bad.

Cliff Clavin is sure to weigh in soon.

But it’s not the reviews that are hard for Wichita State to handle right now; it’s the calendar. There are just five regular-season games left, each one a mini Super Bowl for the opponent, each one a referendum on the Shockers’ NCAA worth.

Until now, the Shockers have handled the pressure and attention expertly, but in the last week, it looks like it is starting to get to them.

They look a bit like Arizona did before losing to Cal. The Wildcats struggled at home against Utah, barely eked out a win at Stanford and then lost to the Bears.

Wichita State won a tight game against Indiana State, survived a late rally from Northern Iowa and won really despite itself against Southern Illinois.

Poised to lose? Maybe.

Especially since the Shockers now head to Evansville. The school’s nickname is the Aces; where Wichita is concerned it ought to be Kryptonite. A year ago, the Shockers were cruising along, 15-1 overall, undefeated in the Missouri Valley, ranked No. 23 in the country -- and lost at Evansville.  A month later, after regrouping from a midseason skid, Wichita rode a five-game win streak into a home game against Evansville -- and lost again.

There is no logical reason to believe history will repeat itself. The Aces (or Kryptonite) aren’t very good. Before an overtime win against Illinois State, they had lost four in a row and five of their last six. They don’t score a lot of points, which will make a game against the defensive-minded Shockers even worse. And odds are, of all the teams Wichita State will be ready for, Evansville will be at the top of the list.

The thing is, logic doesn’t always hold sway in these situations. Two years ago, Murray State was undefeated when it played Tennessee State, a 15-10 team it had beaten eight times in a row previously. The Racers lost.

In 2004, Saint Joseph’s rolled its record to 27-0 largely on the back of its solid offense and sensational backcourt. In the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 tournament, Xavier routed the Hawks 87-67. St. Joe’s shot 35.4 percent for the game, and Jameer Nelson and Delonte West combined for 11-of-35 shooting.

This isn’t a new path for Wichita State, necessarily, but like the winter-ravaged roads across the country, it’s growing more laced with potholes every day.

It’s just not easy going where everybody knows your name.

Just ask Kirstie Alley.

Cheers!