All previews: click here for the full 2015 NCAA tournament schedule
Conference: Big Twelve
Wichita State Shockers
Conference: Missouri Valley
Date: Sunday, March 22
Time: 5:15 pm Eastern
Location: Omaha, NE
This is the matchup that the state of Kansas—and much of the rest of the country, too—has been wanting to see for a long time.
Kansas Wichita State
SportsRatings Power Ratings
Strength: #12 Strength: #21
Median play: #11 Median play: #26
Road/Neutral Rank: #17 Road/Neutral Rank: #29
Other Power Ratings
Sagarin(predictor):#14 Sagarin: #19
Pomeroy: #11 Pomeroy: #14
Offense: #37 Offense: #20
Defense: #7 Defense: #15
LRMC: #10 LRMC: #17
BPI: #8 BPI: #13
Power Rating Derivatives
2nd half/season: #8 2nd half/season: #20
Last 6 games: #13 Last 6 games: #26
Injury correction: #16 Injury correction: #20
Consistency: #133 Consistency: #76
Deep Run Rank: #7 Deep Run Rank: #12
Best Shot: #19 Best Shot: #32
Schedule Strength: #1 Schedule Strength: #116
Kansas played the toughest schedule in the country, and it wasn't really close; that's why at 26-8 they got a 2-seed. But they aren't necessarily one of the top 8 teams in the country; most power ratings put them at the 3 or 4 "level". They do get #8 in the BPI, and over the 2nd half of the season they get that from the Strength power rating. After their first NCAA game, Kansas' Strength in games without Cliff Alexander is about the same as it is with him. Wichita State is almost as good as Kansas, and they are more balanced in terms of offensive and defensive efficiency.
- Wins vs. tournament teams (14): =Michigan St.+5, @Georgetown+5, Utah+3, Lafayette+27, @Baylor+1, Oklahoma St.+10, Oklahoma+7, @Texas+13, Iowa St.+13, Baylor+10, Texas+5, West Virginia+OT, Baylor+10, =New Mexico St.+19
- Losses to tournament teams (6): =Kentucky-32, @Iowa St.-5, @Oklahoma St.-5, @West Virginia-1, @Oklahoma-2, Iowa St.-4
- Other losses (2): @Temple-25, @Kansas St.-7
Key Info: Early on, the Jayhawks were the best, most consistent team in the country—that is, after they warmed up with a tepid win over UC Santa Barbara and got thrashed by Kentucky 72-40 in Indianapolis. They beat Michigan State, Georgetown, and Utah during a great 8-game run that ended with a lopsided loss at Temple. They went on another 10-1 run through the start of the Big Twelve season before closing out with an uncharactistic 7-5 finish. Two of those losses came without Cliff Alexander, the team's leading shot-blocker and a key piece of Kansas' dominant defense; he has basically been declared ineligible to play in the tournament.
They still have their top four scorers, however, led by Perry Ellis with 13.8; he also leads with 7 rebounds per game. Against New Mexico State it was guard Frank Mason who led with 17 points.
- Wins vs. tournament teams (3): New Mexico St.+17, Northern Iowa+14, =Indiana+5
- Losses to tournament teams (2): @Utah-OT, @Northern Iowa-16
- Other losses (2): =George Washington-6, =Illinois St.-3
Key Info: Like conference-mate Northern Iowa, with whom they swapped blowouts (that sounds dirty?), the Shockers (that sounds dirty, too) won a lot of games, but the key games were few and far between on their schedule. They only played New Mexico State and Utah among other tournament-bound teams, and only lost to George Washington and Illinois State otherwise. The latter game came in the MVC tournament and contributed to their disappointing seed.
Wichita State's top four scorers are holdover's from last year's team, with Ron Baker averaging 15 points per game. Against Indiana Fred VanVleet had 27 points without making a single 3-point goal.
Game Analysis: Will the "grudge match" aspect of this game outweight the fact that the winner advances to the Sweet Sixteen? Wichita State has been wanting to play Kansas for some time, especially since last year's Shocker team went undefeated. The in-state rivals haven't played in over 20 years.
And who has the advantage now that they're playing? In terms of team quality, yes, Kansas is probably a bit better. But given the rivalry aspect, which team benefits from the additional emotion? It's a hard call to make. Wichita State seemed the more eager team to play this game, and that might be either good or bad. Kansas will probably approach the game in a more "business-like" manner, with the goal of advancing to the next round.
The Jayhawks also have the advantage of having played many teams as good as Wichita State. The Shockers have three games against 5-seeds UNI and Utah, out of 33 games. Meanwhile the Jayhawks have played 14 games against teams seeded 7th or higher and played 20 games against tournament teams total.
Power rating: spread
Kansas by 2.4
Game-comparisons: % Chance to win
Wichita St: 39.5%
Wow, this is interesting: the game is basically a pick'em according to Vegas at this time. Kansas was the favorite at the open, reflecting the Strength power rating's bias. But the line moved toward the Shockers for whatever reason. Maybe people think that they'll be "up" for the game, and emotion will carry them. Or maybe it's fan money in the state of Kansas? Who knows. The game-comparison system makes Kansas a 60% favorite, much lower than the normal 3/4 chance a 2 seed has over a 7-seed.
Bottom line: The psychology of this game might overwhelm the fundamentals. But the psychology is impossible to reliably speculate about. Given the two teams' schedules this year, we have to lean toward Kansas being more prepared to face a team of Wichita State's caliber than vice versa. This might resemble last year's Wichita State / Kentucky game in the Round of 32—hard-fought, close all the way, and with the Shockers again losing by a bucket.
Final prediction: Kansas 67, Wichita State 65
More previews: click here for the full 2015 NCAA tournament schedule.