Final Four 2013: Wichita State Surprises as Last Mid-Major Standing
Not Gonzaga, VCU or Butler. Not New Mexico and its No. 2 RPI. Not Saint Louis or Temple. Not Creighton and Doug McDermott.
A mid-major is in the Final Four for the third time in the last four years. Raise your hand if you live outside of Wichita and thought this would be the one.
Never mind that a No. 9 seed had never made it to the Final Four since the tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1985. (Penn in 1979 was the last.) Never mind that a Missouri Valley team had not made it to the Final Four since Larry Bird took Indiana State in 1979.
The Shockers didn't even win their league. They didn't even win the imaginations of America until Saturday.
With "Dunk City" no longer around, Wichita State now has our attention.
What took place on Saturday, a 70-66 win over No. 2 seed Ohio State that was more convincing than the score indicates, was no fluke.
The Shockers out-schemed and out-muscled the hottest team from the consensus best league in America. And they didn't come out of nowhere. It's just that no one had really paid much attention.
Shame on us.
Wichita State, which beat mid-major darling VCU in November, had mostly cruised through this tournament other than a battle against Gonzaga in the round of 32. That was an easy one to write off, as Gonzaga should have never been ranked No. 1 in the nation.
Care to reconsider now?
The Shockers had to hit five straight threes in the last eight minutes to rally past the Zags, who were a really good team that ran into a really hot one.
They may have ruined Gonzaga's storybook season, but they continued to represent for the mid-majors. They arguably had an easier time knocking off the Buckeyes, whom most picked out of the West Region, than they did the Zags.
And it's time for us to be shocked no longer—no pun intended—when these mid-majors continue to have success in March.
Those inside college basketball know about Wichita State and know about coach Gregg Marshall. The Shockers play in a beautiful 10,506-seat arena that they pack nightly. Marshall turned down North Carolina State two years ago to stay in Wichita, and he convinces good players to come play in the middle of Kansas.
He just has to look a little harder than the big boys.
Point guard Malcolm Armstead, who scored 14 points against Ohio State, was a starter for two seasons at Oregon before he decided to transfer for his final season elsewhere. Cleanthony Early was a two-time JUCO Player of the Year. Carl Hall, who turned 24 on Friday, was out of basketball for almost two years because of a heart condition.
Marshall, Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens might have to work a little differently than Ohio State, Kansas or UCLA, but they believe they can compete at their schools. They now have four Final Fours to show for it.
So the next time a team like Gonzaga, VCU or Wichita State climbs the rankings, lower your voices a bit. They do play somebody. They play each other.
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