Mar 23, 2014, 8:07 PM EDT
ST. LOUIS — Wichita State finishes the 2013-14 college basketball season at 35-1 and as one of the biggest historical question marks in recent college basketball history.
The No. 1 seed Shockers were the first team to go undefeated into the NCAA Tournament since UNLV in 1991 but many questioned how good Wichita State legitimately was, not only this season, but historically speaking.
The Shockers made the Final Four last season and lost to Louisville in a close contest, but head coach Gregg Marshall’s team only played five NCAA Tournament teams this season — Tulsa, BYU, Saint Louis, Tennessee and North Carolina Central — and many questioned how good the Shockers could actually be if they played such a weak schedule.
Those questions were answered — in full — on Sunday afternoon when Wichita State lost on its final shot of the season against preseason No. 1 Kentucky.
Many talked about Kentucky potentially going 40-0 in the preseason; Wichita State nearly lived it.
A Shocker team led by a junior college transfer, a former walk-on and a vast array of under-recruited “mid-major” prospects came one missed three-pointer away from beating a team with seven All-Americans after those All-Americans threw their best combination in a 15-round heavyweight fight.
“That was an Elite 8 game,” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said after the game. “The winner of that game could have gone to the Final Four.”
College basketball hasn’t seen a mid-major storyline like this since Gordon Hayward nearly gave Butler a national championship in front of its home crowd in Indianapolis against powerhouse Duke.
Media members were buzzing in the hallways of the Scottrade Center on Sunday about the high caliber of play from both teams with many asking aloud if it was the greatest Round of 32 game ever played.
“It’s just tough to end such an amazing run like this,” sophomore guard Ron Baker said. “(We) lost to a very good team that came out and played well. And I feel like if they continue to play like that throughout the tournament, they will be tough to beat.”
Wichita State should feel no shame for going on college basketball’s biggest stage — with Sunday’s game being the only game televised at the time — and shooting 55 percent from the field and 47 percent from the three-point line. Like Butler, the Shockers came one shot away from beating one of college basketball’s biggest perennial juggernauts.
“You know, it’s hard. You mention the finality of it. We won’t be able to coach these seniors anymore. But it’s been such a fun, enjoyable, magical season. I mean, it’s literally been a magic carpet ride that I mentioned a week or so ago. And to have it end is going to be something that we have to get used to,” Marshall said. “But I still think in retrospect we will look back at it and just be so proud. I hope that you’re around when we come back for the ceremony in 20 years or whatever it’s going to be and we can reminisce and it’s pretty special.”
Wichita State was not a “mid-major” program this season. Or last year for that matter. The Shockers only had six wins come within single digits and only one win went to overtime. The Shockers didn’t just beat people, they dominated them.
College basketball hasn’t seen a mid-major program sustain a two-year period of success like this since Butler made back-to-back national title games in 2010 and 2011. Now, Brad Stevens is coaching the Boston Celtics and the Bulldogs reside in the Big East.
With a tremendously loyal fan base and a blossoming program, Wichita State might be the next team to make a similar leap to the permanent big leagues of power conference play.
And they deserve it.
Cleanthony Early, Baker, Tekele Cotton and Fred VanVleet were household names this season — receiving every team’s best shot along the way — and they still held court 35 straight times.
“It’s bittersweet. I wanted it to end a little different, but I have to understand certain facts,” Early said. “I’m sure I’ll continue working really hard to be successful. I am sure my teammates will, and it is what it is.”
“I feel for their team and I feel for their coach,” Calipari said. “And Gregg, understand what he did to keep these guys on point was nothing short of miraculous. I have done it where I had to coach teams that were 26-0, 20-0. I’m telling you, each game there is more and more pressure to win.”
Wichita State might have lost to Kentucky on Sunday — and its perfect season to boot — but they should take pride in knowing that they gave one of college basketball’s most talented teams of all-time all that it could handle.
College basketball fans will be talking about this game for a long time.
“I don’t have any control over what folks want to believe or think that they saw. I know what’s in my heart, I know what I saw,” Marshall said. “I thought I saw a very high-level basketball game between two incredibly gifted teams, that one team won by one play, one basket, two points. And to take anything away from what these young men have done all season long, and more importantly, how they’ve done it, if they want to do that, so be it, good for them.”
Sep 20, 2014, 11:29 PM EDT
Three Mountain West programs and one Big Ten program among the schools on the Las Vegas native’s list.
Sep 20, 2014, 7:50 PM EDT
The elite PG from New Jersey had his first in-person meeting with Kentucky head coach John Calipari on Thursday.
Sep 20, 2014, 6:18 PM EDT
The South Charleston HS floor general was one of the state’s best players last season, and he could prep for a year before joining the WVU program.
Sep 20, 2014, 5:03 PM EDT
The son of a former national champion has made a name for himself by scoring 28 points per game as a junior.
Sep 20, 2014, 3:35 PM EDT
Mount St. Mary’s rewarded head coach Jamion Christian with an extension.
Sep 20, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Gonzaga has one of its deepest teams of all time and the Bulldogs are challenging themselves with a difficult non-conference schedule.
Sep 20, 2014, 12:45 PM EDT
Bradley forward Auston Barnes has been charged with misdemeanor domestic battery following an August arrest.
Sep 20, 2014, 11:30 AM EDT
Pitt and head coach Jamie Dixon no longer hold a commitment from a former 2016 recruit.
Sep 20, 2014, 10:15 AM EDT
A three-star forward has four schools that are heavily involved.
Sep 20, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT
Matt McQuaid can really light it up from the perimeter.
Sep 19, 2014, 11:50 PM EDT
Stephen Zimmerman is ranked the No. 10 overall recruit by Rivals.
Sep 19, 2014, 11:00 PM EDT
Kentucky fans camped out on Monday in order to officially camp out for tickets on Wednesday morning.
Sep 19, 2014, 9:45 PM EDT
The Rhode Island forward is eligible after missing the 2013-2014 season.
Sep 19, 2014, 9:00 PM EDT
The 6-foot-8 forward has two years of eligibility remaining.
Sep 19, 2014, 8:15 PM EDT
He was arrested on Feb. 14.
Sep 19, 2014, 7:00 PM EDT
The Yellow Jackets have added two new assistant to the coaching staff this offseason.
Sep 19, 2014, 5:25 PM EDT
The Orange holds the first of two exhibition games on Nov. 2.
Sep 19, 2014, 4:08 PM EDT
The Roselle Catholic (New Jersey) product picked the Gamecocks over Seton Hall and Rhode Island.
Sep 19, 2014, 2:46 PM EDT
Interestingly enough, UAB visits Chattanooga December 22.
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