Year after year, the NCAA Tournament hand delivers college basketball fans a ”Cinderella”, often worthy of their very own ”One Shining Moment” music-video montage. Of course, there are many fans of the NCAA that would be more than happy to watch perennial hoops powers such as Duke, Ohio State, and Louisville battle it out among themselves.
For the most part, those who believe that the eventual champion should reside within one of the major conferences will get their way. However, for those that believe the madness of March [and April] is at its best when nobody can name both the mascot and the acronym of the team they’re cheering for, I give you the Wichita State Shockers.
After a successful regular season that saw them win games at VCU, versus Iowa, and at home versus Missouri Valley Conference rival Creighton, WSU was considered to be on the ”bubble”, going into the post season. With a loss in the MVC Tournament final to Creighton, the Shockers were blessed by the selection committee in the form of an at large bid and a reason to go dancing.
Led offensively by Early Cleanthony [13.7ppg], Carl Hall [12.5ppg], and Malcolm Armstead [10.9ppg], WSU was awarded a #9 seed and drew a matchup versus #8 seed Pittsburgh in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. After beating Pitt, Head Coach Gregg Marshall then led his team to a win over top-seeded Gonzaga in the second round, fo llowed by a victory over fellow Cinderella, LaSalle University to advance to the Elite 8. Facing the #2 seed Ohio State Buckeyes in the round of 8, nearly everyone figured that the run was over.
WSU managed to continue live up to their name however, beating the Big 10 powerhouse and earning a trip to the prestigious Final Four and a date with the tournament’s top overall seed, Rick Pitino and the Louisville Cardinal.
Unlike many of our beloved Cinderellas, Wichita State does in fact have some NCAA Tournament experience. Last season [2011-12], WSU finished a very respectable 27-6, including an impressive 15-1 record at home which landed them a #5 seed in the tournament.
Although they lost to 12th-seeded Virginia Commonwealth, lessons were obviously learned and Head Coach Gregg Marshall was sure that those who remained with the program wouldn’t forget. After leaving the head coaching job at Winthrop in 2007, Marshall arrived in Wichita with a strategy that he felt would set the Shockers apart from their mid major rivals. Focusing the majority of the programs recruiting efforts towards the signing of junior college transfers, he began to lay the foundation of what he hoped would one day become more than just another Cinderella.
Having been to the NCAA Tournament on eight separate occasions prior to this year, Marshall knows the added benefits of having players who have already played at the collegiate level and have had the extra two years to mature into more balanced players. Currently, WSU has a total of seven junior college transfers on their roster and it becomes clear when they matchup against programs such as Pittsburgh and Ohio State, that the added experience and maturity definitely makes a difference.
For those of us who feel that it no longer matters whether or not the Shockers knock-off the seemingly immortal Louisville Cardinal, and in doing so, earns a berth in the championship against the Syracuse-Michigan winner, we’re wrong.
Ask anyone who is associated with the program and they’d be proud to tell you, ”we belong”.Maybe its partly due to the fact that the Shockers have actually been here once before, in 1965.
While its unlikely that Shocker-pride originates from a mid-sixties, pre-Woodstock trip into sports trivia, this is a fanbase that has experienced much more than your average bracket buster. Whether it was the tragic plane crash in 1970 that resulted in the deaths of 31 football players, administration, and fans which then led to the termination of Shocker football all together, or the fact that regardless of how well they perform, they’re likely to be in the shadow of Kansas and Kansas State, WSU is used to a good fight.
With programs that would traditionally be classified as ”mid majors”, such as George Mason, Gonzaga, and Butler making deep runs into the madness recently, why are we still so surprised when it happens yet again this year with WSU? Is it something that we, as sports fans are hardwired to do? Are we so used to the same 15 or 20 programs winning year after year that we don’t recognise that the game is changing? Like it or not, parity within NCAA basketball has struck another blow, and luckily, the Wichita State Shockers are used to a good fight.