What's Next for Wichita State Following Loss to Louisville in 2013 Final Four?
The Shockers' stunning postseason endeavor ended Saturday evening in Atlanta. Wichita State had top-seeded Louisville on the ropes throughout much of the second half but surrendered a 12-point advantage en route to a 72-68 defeat.
Gregg Marshall and company captured national attention with a relentless surge through the first two weekends of the NCAA tournament. Wichita State took down the top-ranked teams in the South Region section of the bracket, beating both No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 2 Ohio State en route to the Shockers' first Final Four appearance since 1965.
Wichita State's inability to seal the deal late against Louisville prevents the program from stealing the spotlight in Monday's title game matchup, but there's undoubtedly an abundance of positives for the squad to build on. In the aftermath of a heartbreaking loss, here's a look at what the future holds for an upstart Shockers squad.
Season in Review
The Shockers became the second team in school history to reach the Final Four and the first to advance beyond the Sweet 16 since 1981. Wichita State continues to progress as a postseason contender in the Missouri Valley Conference.
Coach Marshall took over for Mark Turgeon in 2007, and his efforts to build a program in his image have paid immediate dividends. Since a disappointing 11-20 opening season, Marshall's squad has never finished a campaign under .500.
The Shockers reached the CBI in 2009 before advancing to the NIT in each of the two following seasons. Wichita State took the NIT title in 2011 and eventually ended a six-year drought by qualifying for the NCAA tournament in 2012.
After falling to VCU in the tourney opener last season, the Shockers burst onto the scene this spring. Wichita State defeated Pittsburgh, Gonzaga, La Salle and Ohio State on its way to Saturday's matchup with Louisville.
The Shockers' 2013 tournament journey put the program on the national map.
This team will look quite different next season, as the squad bids adieu to an array of key contributors. Wichita State should take a significant step backward following the Final Four appearance.
Seniors Malcolm Armstead, Demetric Williams and Carl Hall played the bulk of minutes in Marshall's rotation. Armstead elevated his game in the postseason, while Hall was clearly one of the NCAA tournament's most tenacious interior rebounders and defenders.
Senior Ehimen Orukpe played a vital role in the rotation throughout the season, and his impending absence raises plenty of question marks about the Shockers' ability to rebuild their frontcourt.
Making matters worse, junior forward Cleanthony Early is a candidate to depart for the NBA draft. An exceptional performance versus Louisville (24 points, 10 rebounds) only increases speculation that his days as a Shocker are history.
The program's immediate future hinges on whether Cleanthony Early is back in uniform next season. Aside from Early, few experienced players can be counted on to contribute on opening day.
Freshman guard Fred VanVleet will take over a lead role in the backcourt. The 5'11" sharpshooter averaged only four points and two assists this season, but he scored 13 against Gonzaga and added 12 points versus Ohio State.
He sealed an upset victory over the Bulldogs in the round of 32 with a timely three-pointer that extended the Shockers' lead to a two-possession advantage with under 90 seconds to play. Expect him to average double-digit scoring and become the team's primary ball-handler in 2013-14.
He joins fellow freshman Ron Baker and sophomore Tekele Cotton to form a formidable backcourt that stacks up well against most conference opponents. Sophomore Evan Wessel will be the team's top three-point threat, while senior-to-be Nick Wiggins provides guard depth.
The frontcourt is far less of a finished product. Jake White and Chadrack Lufile provide size, measuring in at 6'8" apiece, but have extremely little experience.
Incoming Recruiting Class
Shaquille Morris must make his presence known early and often in his first season on campus. The 6'8" power forward is one of Oklahoma's premier high school post players, and that's exactly what Wichita State will lack following the loss of savvy senior Carl Hall.
His quick maturation becomes even more paramount if Cleanthony Early bolts for the NBA.
Point guard D.J. Bowles, a Florida product, will have more time to work his way into the rotation since the Shockers return a strong backcourt. He is a speedy player and premier ball distributor.
An improved mid-range game would go a long way for him to become a versatile scoring threat. North Carolina guard Ri'an Holland also helps bolster the Shockers' backcourt depth.