Remember, the Shockers weren't all that far off last season. Cleanthony Early, Ron Baker, Fred VanVleet and Tekele Cotton all played major roles in WSU's run from a No. 9 seed to a Final Four matchup with Louisville, one the Shockers were a minute and a couple of possessions from, ahem, shocking the eventual national champs. They haven't lost since. In the interim, Early made the leap, Baker became an NBA draft darling, and VanVleet posted a season-long, pass-first-point-guard version of a Mortal Kombat flawless victory. Quantitatively, adjusted for competition, Wichita State ranks among the four best teams in the nation. The Shockers have been great.
They could have lost a game or two somewhere along the line and that would still be true. But Gregg Marshall wants nothing less than perfection from this season, and his team is six wins away from achieving it. Get on board.
Florida (1): In October, in a hotel ballroom in Birmingham, Ala., Florida coach Billy Donovan detailed his team's almost unbelievable personnel attrition. Eli Carter and Will Yeguete were recovering from injury. Michael Frazier II was being tested for mononucleosis. Damontre Harris had a hamstring strain; he would eventually be dismissed from the team. Five-star freshman forward Chris Walker was desperately trying to get academically eligible. And senior guard Scottie Wilbekin was indefinitely suspended.
Donovan had seven scholarship players in practice. He couldn't even run five-on-five.
"I'd tell you today, if we had [all our players available] and we could start Oct. 11 fully healthy, then I'd tell you we have a chance to be really good," he said then. "Hopefully we can get there as the season goes on. But we're not there right now."
Newsflash: Florida got there.
The Gators' early personnel woes had the long-term effect of helping Donovan's team. Early on, they required senior forward and longtime role player Casey Prather to become a go-to scorer. They forced Kasey Hill into the point guard role before Wilbekin's return. By the time Prather was a Wooden Award candidate and Patric Young established himself in the post, Donovan was slowly reintroducing more and better pieces: First Dorian Finney-Smith, then Wilbekin, then 3-point specialist Frazier emerged, then Walker. Now it's March and the Gators are Mariana Trench deep, experienced, talented, the works. They haven't lost since Dec. 2. They've got it all. Who knows: If Donovan had his whole team ready Oct. 11, maybe the Gators' season wouldn't have gone this way.
One year ago, we worried about watchability. Now we have this field. You never know what a new year might bring.