Everyone knows that the 2013-2014 Wichita State Shockers basketball team got off to the greatest start in program history. And oh yeah, the men's basketball team is doing pretty good, too.
If you've just been paying attention to Gregg Marshall and company, you may have missed another big story coming out of Koch Arena: the rise of the women's program under Coach Jody Adams.
Now before screaming "this writer is an idiot" (certainly a possibility), consider the old mountain peak analogy. A 10,000-footer rising alone off a valley floor is often more impressive than a 20,000-footer that's nestled among similarly-sized peaks. Adams' team has climbed off the floor of a literal valley — the Missouri Valley Conference.
Just for fun, let's proceed to the comparisons.
The Coaches: Gregg Marshall is the hottest coaching commodity in college basketball. TV commentators have begun to compare his first 15 years in the business favorably to that of sure-fire Hall of Famers such as Duke's Mike Krzyzewski and Syracuse's Jim Boeheim. Advantage Marshall, right?
Not so fast. Marshall took a program that historically was better-than-average, and at times outstanding, to its first NIT title and second-ever Final Four appearance.
Adams has lifted a program that historically sucked and given it a series of firsts: first conference title, first conference tournament title, first NCAA tournament appearance and first top 25 ranking. Which is harder?
The Streaks: As of this writing, the men's team had raced off to a 28-0 start and looked like a near-lock to finish the regular season undefeated. If it happens, they'll be the first team to do so since St. Joseph's in 2004.
It's impossible to argue with perfection, but don't overlook what the women did. After two losses in their first five games, they had reeled off 20 straight wins by mid-February, including victories over traditionally strong programs Kansas State and Wisconsin-Green Bay. During conference play, they were beating opponents by a 20-point margin, significantly higher than the men's team, and never needed the kind of late- game heroics the men did at Missouri State.
They've led the Valley in the same important categories the men have — scoring, defense, rebounding, turnover margin — plus a couple (field goal percentage and three-point goal percentage) that Marshall would probably like having for his own squad.
The Players: Much of Wichita is now on a first-name basis with the men's team. It's Freddie, Ron, Cleanthony and Tekele, plus a whole bunch of role players with an uncanny knack for stepping up at the right time. Fred Van Vleet and Cleanthony Early are among the top 30 finalists for national college player of the year, Ron Baker has a well-rounded game that makes everyone around him better, and Cotton is the shut-down defender/highlight reel dunker.
The women's team boasts worthy counterparts at several positions.
Point guard Jamillah Bonner, who played at Southeast and Butler Community College, has been named Valley newcomer of the year three times. Fellow guard Alex Hardin and forward Michelle Price have each been named Valley player of the week. Harden leads the team in scoring, assists, blocks and minutes played. The senior Price is having a breakout season, leading the team in rebounds and steals and the entire valley in field goal percentage.
So who’s got bragging rights? Barring a late collapse, the regular season goes to the men. But the question won’t really be decided until post-season play. And however far each team goes in that competition, they will have had a season for the ages.