ST. LOUIS — One might expect there’s a significant difference between a No. 1 seed from a power conference and a No. 1 such as Wichita State when it comes to physical advantages. That the Shockers, because they’re a humble mid-major from the Missouri Valley, aren’t going to beat you with their bodies as much as their brains and their hearts.
Ask Cal Poly about that.
The Shockers may not be skyscrapers, but they sure are brick walls. Sixteenth-seeded Cal Poly learned that the hard way throughout a 64-37 loss Friday in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
In every sense, this was a brutal mismatch. The Shockers are 35-0 and attempting to become the first undefeated national champion since Indiana in 1976. The Mustangs? Well, they ended their season at 14-20.
The score barely hinted at the physical edge held by Wichita State, whose players live in the weight room year-round and sure as heck look like it.
‘‘We do a whole lot more than anybody else,’’ said 6-9, 251-pound center Kadeem Coleby. ‘‘It was obvious we were a lot bigger and stronger.’’
That was demonstrated over and over in the first half, when the Mustangs struggled so severely to maintain possession of the ball that it had to feel like a victory just to get a shot up. One minute into the game, they had a 3-0 on Wichita State. With five minutes left in the first half, the Shockers led 30-8 and were acting the part of the Midwest Region big dog.
During that stretch of utter dominance, it seemed that any time the Shockers wanted the ball, all they had to do was reach out and snatch it away. Fifty-fifty balls resembled lions against lambs.
That’s no disrespect to Cal Poly, or maybe it is. But say this for the Mustangs: They’ve seen some of the superpowers of college basketball. Over the last few years, they’ve faced several of the teams in this tournament.
In November, they visited the No. 1 seed in the West, Arizona, and lost by a perfectly respectable score of 73-62. Their experience against the Shockers was nothing like that.
Cal Poly’s players sure don’t think Arizona — whose physical advantages are plain to see — is any better.
‘‘The difference with Wichita State was they are always in position,’’ said Cal Poly guard Jamal Johnson. ‘‘They’re strong — not just their bodies but in every way. They’re strong with the ball. They’re strong with their minds. I think they’re as good as anyone in the country.’’
Five victories shy of 40-0 — and wouldn’t that be something amazing? — the Shockers are going to find out where they stand. They might not tower above the crowd, but they’re strong enough to push their way to the front.