As soon as Wichita State’s season ended in the Final Four, coach Gregg Marshall started talking about the future.
“This is just a beginning,” Marshall told the Wichita Eagle. “A lot of good young player in that locker room. All they’re talking about right now is working hard this summer and getting better, so…I’m pretty excited about it.”
This is the obvious response for any mid-major that has a taste of March success. We’ve been here; now let’s get back.
That’s not always so easy. In fact, the odds are against Wichita State, Florida Gulf Coast and La Salle to make it to at least the second weekend of the NCAA tournament again next season.
Between 2000 and 2012, there were 23 mid-majors seeded seven or lower that made it to at least the Sweet 16. Only one made it back the next year—Gonzaga in 2001, which was the Zags' third straight trip to the Sweet 16. Eight made it back to the tournament the next season and six of those teams won a game.
Rosters change. Coaches get higher-profile jobs, and some of these schools fall back off the map.
So what are the odds FGCU, La Salle and Wichita State capture our imaginations for a second straight year?
Florida Gulf Coast
Coach: Andy Enfield left for USC, and FGCU hired Kansas assistant Joe Dooley on Wednesday.
Who’s Coming Back: Return four of five starters.
Outlook: Taking a here-and-now look at FGCU is promising.
Leading scorer Sherwood Brown graduates, but Enfield had a high-profile replacement waiting in the wings in Marquette transfer Jamail Jones. Jones, who has two seasons of eligibility left, was ranked as the 10th-best small forward out of high school by Rivals.com in 2010.
Dooley will also have the orchestrater of Dunk City. Lob-master Brett Comer returns along with his favorite targets Chase Fieler and Eric McKnight.
It will be interesting to see if Dooley has the Eagles continue to play an up-tempo style. Bill Self does not coach a run-and-gun style, but the Jayhawks are always willing to run at opportune times and Self has always run plenty of lob plays that Dooley will bring in his arsenal.
Taking a historical look at what FGCU did is difficult because a 15-seed in the Sweet 16 was a first.
The closest thing we have to equate FGCU’s run to are the two 14 seeds that made the Sweet 16—Cleveland State in 1986 and Chattanooga in 1997. Cleveland State retained its coach and made it to back-to-back NITs following its Sweet 16 run, but the school would not return to the tourney until 2009.
Chattanooga’s coach Mack McCarthey moved on to VCU after his team’s Sweet 16, and it took eight years for the school to get back to the tourney.
Out of the 23 mid-majors since 2000 to reach the Sweet 16, eight have lost their coach. Three of those got back to the tournament with a new coach, and two of them (Milwaukee Wisconsin in 2006 and Western Kentucky 2009) won a game in their return, so that gives Dooley some hope.
The biggest obstacle in the way of FGCU getting back will be Mercer, the regular-season conference champ in the Atlantic Sun this past year. Mercer returns four starters who will all be seniors.
Coach: John Giannini is expected to return for his 10th season at La Salle.
Who’s Coming Back: Four of five starters return. Leading scorer Ramon Galloway graduates.
Outlook: The Explorers also have to like their chances with everyone back but Galloway.
Tyrone Garland—who averaged 13.0 points off the bench after transferring from Virginia Tech—should be able to step in Galloway’s place in the backcourt. La Salle also adds guard Khalid Lewis, a transfer from Delaware who started 32 games as a freshman in 2011-12. Transfers have been kind to Giannini, as Galloway was also a transfer who came to La Salle after two seasons at South Carolina.
The teams that usually get back to the tourney are the ones that return experience, so that bodes well for La Salle as well. That has created a buzz in Philly.
Tyreek Duren, who is the team’s leading returning scorer, told The Philadelphia Inquirer:
There are probably going to be sold-out crowds every game. We have our loyal fans, but, I mean, everybody is going to be looking forward to watching us play next year.
That should have Giannini excited as well, but don’t be surprised if the coach has wandering eyes for the next month or so.
The return of Giannini is likely; however, he has been rumored as in the mix for the Rutgers’ job. Eddie Jordan is the current favorite, but The Star-Ledger is reporting that Jordan is expecting to be paid more than Rutgers has paid any basketball coach in the past.
This was La Salle’s first trip to the tourney under Giannini in 10 seasons, so if he wants to leapfrog to a high-profile job, it would make sense to do so now because getting back to the tournament is not a given.
Coach: Gregg Marshall does not appear to be headed anywhere.
Who’s Coming Back: Return three of four starters and sixth man Fred VanVleet.
Outlook: The schools that have previous basketball tradition usually have the best shot at remaining on the national scene. (See Butler, VCU and Gonzaga as proof.)
With a Final Four already in its history before 2013 and a Sweet 16 appearance in 2006, Wichita State was already a program on the radar of most college basketball fans.
Next year’s team will return plenty to remain in the national conversation. Leading scorer Cleanthony Early is back as well as three-point ace Ron Baker.
Marshall also hit the recruiting trail hard this past year and has another transfer waiting his turn—remember, Oregon transfer Malcolm Armstead was key to the Final Four run in his only season as a Shocker.
Kadeem Coleby, a 6’9” big man, is the transfer waiting his turn to play one season as a Shocker. Coleby was a starter at Louisiana-Lafayette and he will be the favorite to replace Hall in Wichita State’s starting lineup.
Marshall also signed two 6’7" JUCO forwards—one of whom, Darius Carter, is a NJCAA All-American—and the JUCO transfers will join four high school recruits as newcomers on the roster.
Marshall has already proven he can reload quickly. The Shockers actually had more regular-season success in 2011-12—they won the Valley—and they had to replace five starters this past year. It’s hard enough for a blue blood to replace five starters and remain relevant—just ask Kentucky—and the Shockers didn’t just stay relevant; they got to the Final Four.
Which 2013 Cinderella will have the best 2014?
All signs point to Wichita State on the verge of becoming the Gonzaga of the Midwest. The Shockers have coach who is willing to stay put—similar to Mark Few—and a conference that appears to be all theirs.
The Zags have made 15 straight NCAA tournaments and are the one mid-major in the 2000s that made back-to-back trips to the Sweet 16 seeded seven or lower. They did so with an entire new backcourt in 2001. If all goes well, the Shockers will not get that opportunity because they’ll be seeded higher than seven—they were a No. 5 seed in 2012.
Wichita State fans have to like the landscape of the Missouri Valley in its current infrastructure. Creighton is off to the American Athletic Conference (the new Big East), and WSU will be the clear favorite, most likely on a yearly basis.
Getting back to the Final Four will not be easy, although Butler did so in 2011 after replacing leading scorer Gordon Hayward.
Getting to the NCAA tournament on regular basis will be an expectation now—realistic or not—for all three of 2013’s Cinderellas.
If you want to bet on one, all signs point to the Shockers as the team with the best shot to repeat their success.