And now the waiting begins for the Wichita State Shockers.
“We’ll just wait it out and see where we stand,” senior guard Clevin Hannah said following Wichita’s 67-52 loss to Northern Iowa in the championship game of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. “I know we’ll be playing somewhere, but we’ll just wait it out and see what we can do to get better.”
On paper, the Shockers have a strong resume. They’ve won 25 games, went undefeated at home, and beat Iowa from the Big Ten and Texas Tech out of the Big 12.
They also played even with Pittsburgh early in the season without their senior leader on the floor before falling 68-55.
“It’s kind of a letdown to play in anything less than an NCAA tournament,” said J.T. Durley, whose team caught some breaks this week with early-round losses by Missouri and Connecticut in the Big 12 and Big East tournaments, respectively.
Wichita State definitely got the vote of Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson, whose team repeated as MVC tourney champs after winning the regular season title.
“The country saw (Sunday) why Wichita State is in that picture for an at-large bid,” Jacobson said. “They’ve crept back into it the last couple of weeks, and they should because of the quality team they have. They’ve got the ability to play at a high level, and they’ve done so a lot.”
Although Creighton and Illinois State were two Valley teams snubbed by the NCAA selection committee the last two years, Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall pointed to the depth of the Valley as another reason why the Shockers are deserving of an NCAA tournament bid.
The Shockers beat a 20-win Missouri State team, seeded seventh in the tourney, in the quarterfinals, before knocking off 22-10 Illinois State in the semis.
“This league is a pretty good basketball league,” Marshall said. “We had to play a team with 20 wins in the quarterfinals that was getting Top 25 votes for five straight weeks.”
Wichita State is 25-8, and was the No. 2 seed in the MVC tourney. He said his team shines in tournament play.
“Our team is built for this type of tournament, and built for postseason play,” Marshall said. “We’ve got size. We’ve got 7-footers, we’ve got long, rangy athletes. We’re going to defend. I have a lot of thoughts in my mind.
“Northern Iowa is a great team. They’ll win games in the NCAA tournament, and I’ve got experience as an NCAA tournament coach. Hopefully I can get them prepared to compete with whomever we play.”
Hannah is the lone senior, and the Shockers said the tough loss would help them get better in the future.
“You got gotta remember this feeling and how bad it sucks,” Stutz said. “We have to do everything we can to not be feeling this again.”
Marshall, who last coached in the NCAA tournament when he took Winthrop to the Big Dance three straight years from 2005-2007, said he’d like to get back this year just to give Hannah a taste of the event, which begins March 18.
“I’d love to get an opportunity to coach Clevin Hannah in the NCAA tournament,” Marshall said. “He’s a special little player.”
Regardless of where the Shockers end up, Hannah said they’re a team on the rise.
“I expect this program to be one of the top coming soon,” Hannah said. “They can play anywhere with anybody.”
As they wait for their fate to be decided next Sunday, Marshall said his job title this week goes from coach to psychologist.
“It’s my job to get them back up because we’ll be playing somebody somewhere,” Marshall said. “I would have loved to have to executed better and won the game and went to the NCAA tournament without a doubt. But it didn’t happen.
“What I’ve got to do is get this group back up so they can live to fight another day. They’ve got to understand the strides that they’ve made.”
Those strides should take them into the Big Dance.
This column can also be found at The Alton Telegraph.