Gauging a programs overall success can be an arduous task especially when a particular team has dominated their under the radar conference. While the Missouri Valley Conference may lack the strength and prestige of power conferences such as the ACC and Big 12, it is nevertheless an impressive feat when a team like the Wichita State Shockers can go 31-0 in a single regular season. Although their will always be skeptics who will deem the Shockers impeccable performances as unremarkable because of their lackluster conference, this team has already proven it’s competitive legitimacy thanks to their miraculous run to the Final Four last year. Even though the Shockers may not be the unquestionably best team in college basketball, they have certainly earned the right to be respected as one of the best.
The Shockers rise to national stardom begins and ends with the emergence of their humble yet passionate head coach Gregg Marshall. Although Marshall didn’t become a head coach until 1998 when he went to Winthrop, he emphatically proved that his unique perspectives and passion for the game were more than enough to lead virtually any collegiate program to consistent success. After leading Winthrop to seven NCAA Tournament berths in nine years while winning six regular season titles, Marshall head his eyes set on another program that was in desperate need of an impassioned leader.
While Marshall’s first year as the Shockers head coach wasn’t exactly successful, it provided the foundation from which this deflated team would rise from the ashes. After a ninth place conference finish during the 2007-2008 season, the Shockers perseverance and lofty goals started to turn this teams pipe dreams into a believable reality. With each year, the Shockers rise from mediocrity quietly went unnoticed as Marshall led his to an NIT berth and then to an NIT championship the year after that. Eventually, the Shockers battled their way to their first Final Four Appearance since 1965 in last years NCAA Tournament. Although the Shockers would ultimately lose to the Louisville Cardinals in a shoot out, this teams athletic abilities and unwavering desire to win would never be doubted again.
This year, the Shockers have once again outdone themselves, as they were the only collegiate basketball program to go undefeated throughout the entire regular season. Although the Shockers had a weak conference schedule that was ranked 216th, they made up for this blatant discrepancy by dominating all but one of their conference opponents (the Shockers went into overtime against Missouri State on January 11th and won 72-69). Even so, it would be easy to chalk up the Shockers sensational success to a mediocre schedule that was more of cakewalk than an intriguing story of perseverance and a well-developed team identity.
That would be true if the Shockers hadn’t fought their way valiantly to the Final Four last year.
Despite the arguments that the Shockers unimpressive schedule will ultimately doom them to a quick exit from the NCAA Tournament, this teams drive for excellence hasn’t burned out since Gregg Marshall rejuvenated this team seven years ago. Year after the year, the Shockers have continued to build upon their triumphs from the year before while taking their transgressions to heart. This team battled for each victory not because they wanted national recognition or because they wanted constant media attention to gloat about their accomplishments. Rather than being easily enticed by the attention that comes with being a dominant program, the Shockers won each and every game for themselves and for their loyal fan base and nothing more. The Shockers have earned their place in history because they have always believed that they could improve. Once the Shockers have finally reached their ultimate goal of winning a national championship, their hunger for supreme success will finally be satiated.
In the end, the Shockers have proven that throughout the difficult moments and the rewarding victories that they can still retain the same type of inspiring passion for a game that is beloved by both long time sports fans and youthful onlookers who aspire to be in same position as this team. Although the Shockers will always have doubters, it won’t stop them from being a team that wins because they love the game rather than doing it for praise and recognition. While the road to a national championship has yet to unfold for this driven team, they have all the elements and intangibles to win where they haven’t before.