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Don’t let Sunday’s loss sully what Wichita State accomplished this year

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.

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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.

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“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.”

  1. gatorprof - Mar 23, 2014 at 8:21 PM

    Nice season no doubt, but let’s not blow it out of proportion.

    In the regular season, they never played a top 25 team. They only played 3 top 50 teams.

    Yes, they beat everyone on their schedule, but there really wasn’t anyone on their schedule until the tournament. They didn’t make it out of the first weekend.

  2. barkleyblows - Mar 23, 2014 at 8:33 PM

    Pffffffffft. What did they accomplish? Playing nobody and being severely overrated?

  3. blbrad - Mar 23, 2014 at 8:34 PM

    great team and great season, but just another charming story in a long line of mid majors that can’t step up and hit that final shot.

  4. joerevs300 - Mar 23, 2014 at 8:39 PM

    They want a home and home against any top 3-4 team in a power conference.

    No one will give it to them.

    The W.State AD has all but said they will not go on the road unless they get a game at home in return.

    So, when upsets happen in the tournaments that start off the year, they lose their chance to play more elite competition. That’s how the end up playing the Tulsa’s, Tennessee’s and BYU’s of the world, and not the Duke, Kansas and Kentucky’s, all games that, had they went on the road and won, would have put them #1 in the country and the #1 overall seed vs. the #3 overall seed and getting saddled with the murderer’s row of Kentucky/Michigan/Duke/Louisville (depending on who won the games).

    Is it a nice footnote for CBB history they went 34-0 in the regular season? Sure. Why not.

    But no one will remember that. They likely will remember who won the overall tournament.

    • gatorprof - Mar 23, 2014 at 10:19 PM

      Re: “The W.State AD has all but said they will not go on the road unless they get a game at home in return.”

      Why should anyone do this? The game is all about $$$ and W.S. isn’t that big of a deal to demand a one and one.

      Quit whining about not being the overall one seed. The Gators beat Kentucky 3 times, at home, at Kentucky, and at a neutral site. W.S. lost on a neutral site.

      • big3kansas11 - Mar 25, 2014 at 7:55 PM

        Actually Wichita State has been the most viewed team in the tournament. They were undefeated, which attracted more TV viewers for their 2 games than any other game thus far. NCAA is losing some extra bonus cash from TV revenue now that WSU is no longer playing. 1 seeds are supposed to earn slightly more favorable paths, when exactly the opposite happened to WSU, as many people have cited the Mid-West regional the toughest ever for a 1 seed. Not only that, this Years Wichita State team was fun to watch for people who weren’t, even fans. They were a team of under recruited players who all made the sacrifices to break their backs to get this good.

  5. shockertalk - Mar 23, 2014 at 11:07 PM

    Congratulations to the Shockers.
    Congratulations to the Wildcats.
    I read the articles that give respect to WSU. I read and listen to the comments from Coach Calipari (and Rick Pitino last year) that are complimentary and respectful.
    I listen to the sportscasters (except that @#$% Gotlieb) give credit where credit is due.
    Then I come on here and I am sad for our nation. There are too many common fans with no sense of honesty or good sportsmanship. Commenters like “gatorprof” and “barkleyblows” are an example of what is wrong with this country. Negative, selfish, disrespectful attitudes that do lift up, but only attempt to drag down. Its an issue bigger than basketball, but one that basketball exposes. Sad.

  6. babyfarkmcgeezax - Mar 23, 2014 at 11:28 PM

    Wichifraud State Chokers

    • shockertalk - Mar 23, 2014 at 11:43 PM

      How does dishonesty taste?
      How does hatred taste?
      You know, both will make you ill.

      • babyfarkmcgeezax - Mar 24, 2014 at 12:51 AM

        How does fraudulence taste?
        How does playing even a semblance of legitimate competition during the regular season taste? Oh that’s right, Wichifraud State wouldn’t know.

  7. jbaxt - Mar 23, 2014 at 11:37 PM

    They can’t demand a home game because they’re a mid-major. The big schools lose money playing inferior teams in inferior conferences. This is college basketball 101, clearly some fans need a prerequisite for even the basics.

    • shockertalk - Mar 23, 2014 at 11:44 PM

      So, you are “OK” with money ruling over fairness, opportunity, and good sportsmanship?

  8. antaresrex - Mar 24, 2014 at 12:51 AM

    Wichita State might have been better off not winning so much. Then they would have been just another pesky mid-major instead of “frauds” and “chokers”. It’s nonsense. I’ve seen power conference teams as #1s get bounced in the second round, and a lot of them got clipped by worse teams. Calling the Shockers fraudulent is akin to calling the ’91 UNLV team the same because they didn’t repeat their championship.

    This team made the Final Four last year and gave Louisville all it could handle, and if you watched the game today, you’d have seen that they certainly didn’t get worse. This was a Final Four-caliber game that – somewhat unfortunately – happened in the second round. Kentucky is finally playing like the contender they were expected to be all season, and WSU went toe-to-toe with them for all 40 minutes. And if Early’s late dunk and layup attempts find the net instead of spinning out or bouncing off, we would probably be talking about WSU’s rematch with Louisville.

  9. sportfan2 - Mar 24, 2014 at 6:53 AM

    Nice season for a good team. 3 more points and they would still be in the mix and everyone would be saying how bad a season Kentucky had.

  10. packerbadger - Mar 24, 2014 at 9:16 AM

    Most of my relatives are UK grads. BUT, NCAA knew/knows that UK/Louisville would be the biggest draw of the tournament; esp since the game is only 100 miles away from Louisville. Refs seemed to help UK out tremendously. LOTS of non calls for UK and some bogus ones against Wichita. So yes, I am saying that the refs had a lot to do with the outcome of this game.

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