The Last Undefeated College Basketball Team Plays For Title

The men's basketball team from Wichita State holds an undefeated record of 28-0. But that title is currently up for grabs. The team is hoping to bring home the Missouri Valley Conference Title.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Wichita State's basketball team is the last undefeated men's team in America - 28 wins. That got them on one of the regional covers of Sports Illustrated, and that adds a little pressure. If the Shockers win tonight, they'll clinch the Missouri Valley Conference title. From member station KMUW in Wichita, Carla Eckels reports on the team's winning season.

CARLA ECKELS, BYLINE: Kansas is known as the air capitol of the world and from the air you can see the giant grain elevators which hold the vast amounts of wheat harvested by shockers. That's where the team gets its name.

(SOUNDBITE OF BASKETBALL GAME)

MIKE KENNEDY: They're very talented, for one thing. I think that gets overlooked.

ECKELS: Mike Kennedy has been the voice of Wichita State Shockers for nearly 40 years.

KENNEDY: I've never been around a team that did a better job of truly taking the old cliche one game at a time and really focusing on the next opponent and really tuning out all of this other stuff about rankings and undefeated seasons and all that sort of thing.

ECKELS: Thirty-year season ticket holder, Denise Irwin, followed the team to the final four in Atlanta last year and she never misses a home game.

DENISE IRWIN: I think there's a lot of basketball teams out there right now, they're made up of high-caliber recruits and they get a lot of airtime, but they don't seem to work well as a cohesive whole with the other players on the court at the time. But the Shockers do.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHEERING)

CROWD: Let's go Shockers.

ECKELS: Wichita State's Holly White joins a friend to paint their faces Shocker colors, black and gold, at games they attend.

HOLLY WHITE: The energy is out of this world. Like, you walk in and all of a sudden you're one with everyone in there. Like, the moment we score, everyone's on their feet.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHEERING)

ECKELS: Sports Illustrated shows the Shockers for the cover of the current issue. Thomas Lake wrote the story.

THOMAS LAKE: I happened to be in the tunnel before they were about to come back onto the court at half time and they just very quietly said one, two, three brothers. They believe in each other, they're unselfish.

ECKELS: Some NBA teams are paying attention. Cleanthony Early is on their radar, but right now he's concentrating on basketball here.

CLEANTHONY EARLY: If you're really wanting to be better, you're going to listen and you're going to hold yourself accountable and your teammates are going to hold you accountable and I think we all do that. I mean, we have a certain respect for each other, we've got to do it.

ECKELS: Sports Illustrated's Thomas Lake.

LAKE: There's no way to stop all of them. With a lot of teams, if you can shut down two or three of their best scorers, you can really neutralize their scoring threat, and with the Shockers, they just come at you from so many different angles.

ECKELS: It's been 23 years since a team went undefeated in the NCAA tournament. The Shockers will continue that quest tonight.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHEERING)

CROWD: Let's go Shockers. Let's go Shockers.

ECKELS: For NPR News, I'm Carla Eckels in Wichita.

SIMON: This is NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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