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Cleanthony Early: 39 in comeback win. Gregg Marshall: Coach of the Year?

Jan 10, 2013, 10:04 AM EDT

Southern Illinois Wichita St Basketball

You see that picture to the right?

The one right next to this text?

It’s Cleanthony Early, and that’s a picture of him not giving a good gull dern about Wichita State’s injury issues.

The Shockers are missing three starters — that includes their best perimeter shooter, Ron Baker, and Carl Hall, who, at the time of his injury, was the team’s leading scorer and rebounder. Throw in the fact that the Shockers were supposed to be in the midst of a rebuilding year because, you know, they lost their top five scorers from a season ago, and there wouldn’t be a single person that would be surprised if Gregg Marshall’s club was scooting along in the bottom half of the always-crazy Missouri Valley.

But no.

After an 82-76 win over Southern Illinois on Wednesday night, Wichita State is 15-1 on the season, 4-0 in the Valley ranked in the top 25. And Early is the biggest reason why. The 6-foot-8 JuCo transfer and Middletown, NY, native went for 39 points in last night’s win, shooting 13-19 from the floor and 5-9 from three as the Shockers came back from an 11 point halftime deficit to beat the Salukis. This came just one game after Early went for 24 points as the Shockers knocked off Bradley on the road.

Now it would be tough to credit Marshall for Early’s performance the past two games. That’s simply a great player being a great player.

But it is easy to credit Marshall for putting his team and his program in a position where they are not only prepared to weather the departure of their top five scorers, but the injury to three starters the following season as well. Marshall is consistently underrated and forgotten when discussing the best coaches in the country, but there no one has done a better job than he has this season.

With all due respect to Tubby Smith, John Groce, Larry Shyatt and every other coach having a great year, if the season ended today, Gregg Marshall would get my mythical vote for National Coach of the Year.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

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