Wichita State Shockers' Baker celebrates while cutting down part of the net after defeating the Ohio State Buckeyes in their West Regional NCAA men's basketball game in Los Angeles

Gregg Marshall and his Merry Band of Misfits

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ATLANTA — Sitting on a chair in his locker in the far corner of Wichita State’s locker room, Ron Baker must have been thankful that he wasn’t claustrophobic. He was surrounded by reporters — print, TV, internet — from across the country, blockaded by a swarm of video cameras, bright lights, recorders and iPhones that were shoved in his face for 25 minutes. Baker was peppered with questions, the topics ranging everywhere from playing against Russ Smith to his hometown in Kansas to … what the Easter holiday means for someone of Catholic faith.

Seriously.

He was asked what Easter means to him.

At the Final Four.

And Baker handled it all like a pro, calmly, intelligently and succinctly answering every question he was asked, mixing in enough small-town, Midwestern charm to win over reporters and blind them to the fact that the majority of what he said was typical press conference generality. If you didn’t know any better, you never would have guessed that Baker was a redshirt freshmen at a school that didn’t win a league title in the Missouri Valley who opted to walk-on for a year instead of go to Junior College or accept a Division II scholarship.

“My AAU coach was at Coffeyville [CC in Kansas] at the time, and that was my second option if Wichita State didn’t give me the opportunity to pay my first year,” Baker said.

“It’s definitely overwhelming. If I looked back two years ago and you told me I’d be sitting here, I’d probably call you crazy. It’s been a good trip for me and my family and everybody back home. They’re extremely excited.”

And why shouldn’t they be? Towns like Scott City, KS, population 3,800, don’t often send players to the Final Four. But it’s those small-town roots that make Baker’s path to this stage all the more impressive. His high school graduating class was 55 kids. Scott City has two stop lights. The reason he wasn’t recruited by bigger schools? They didn’t know about him. So imagine where he would be if his family had never moved to Scott City from Utica, KS.

“It’s about 50 miles northeast of Scott City,” Baker said. “Population about 280 people.”

The best part about this Wichita State team is that Baker may not even have the best story.

Carl Hall, their 24 year old starting power forward, suffers from a heart condition known as neurocardiogenic syncope. He’s passed out three times on the court, and that forced him away from the game. Instead of chasing his dream, Hall was working the graveyard shift, 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., at a lighting company. He painted light-bulbs for 12 bucks-an-hour before going to school during the day and, finally, taking a nap at night before heading back to the factory.

“I wouldn’t recommend that job to anybody,” Hall said. “It was just a hot, nasty job. I tell them every day to stay in school and do they work.”

That lasted for two years. Finally, doctors told Hall that his medication had started to work and he would be able to resume playing the game he loved. He wound up at Wichita State after going to a JuCo, but it was still difficult for him to resume. On the one hand, he had to learn to trust his heart again. “Once you pass out you,” Hall told reporters in LA, “you don’t want to go through that situation again.” That made it difficult for him to get in shape, and Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall found it difficult to push Hall.

That’s understandable. He once watched a kid he was recruiting die on the court during a game due to a heart condition. When you see that happen once, it makes it a lot harder to convince yourself it’s worthwhile to push a kid beyond his limit.

But Hall persevered, averaging 22.3 minutes as a sixth-man as a junior and more than 28 minutes per game asa  senior.

“I remember like yesterday telling one of the workers that I wanted to start playing basketball, try to pursue my dream, try to play in March Madness one day,” Hall said.

Hall’s here, and if that wasn’t enough, he’ll be playing a car ride from his hometown of Cochran, GA. “I grew up an hour and a half from here,” he said, “and I’ve never been to the Dome.”

It’s the stories of guys like Hall and Baker that make the Shockers so likeable. Wichita State — a No. 9 seed, a team that couldn’t win a title this season in the Missouri Valley, a team with losses to Indiana State and Southern Illinois and got swept by Evansville — wasn’t supposed to beat Gonzaga and Ohio State and make it to Atlanta. Ron Baker and Carl Hall aren’t supposed to be recognizable names. They’re not supposed to be giving interview after interview to the biggest media outlets in the country.

And those two are not alone.

Malcolm Armstead has played at three different colleges during his career. After leaving Oregon as a junior, he redshirted and worked at a car dealership part-time to pay his tuition. “Sometimes I had to leave practice to go to work to be able to make money,” Armstead said. Cleanthony Early played at Division III Sullivan Community College before heading to Wichita. Ehimen Orukpe is from Lagos, Nigeria, by way of Three Rivers Community College. Kadeem Coleby is a transfer from Louisiana-Lafayette that is from the Bahamas. Chadrack Lufile and Nick Wiggins are from Canada, and Wiggins making the Final Four isn’t even the biggest story in his family. He’s the older brother of the nation’s No. 1 prospect, Andrew Wiggins.

The Shockers embody the underdog story, Marshall’s Merry Band of Misfits. And somehow, despite having a locker room full of pieces that didn’t fit somewhere else, the Shockers have made it work.

“A lot of people probably think I wouldn’t fit in with these guys,” Baker said with a laugh. “There’s a bunch of crazy men on this team.”

The craziest part is that they are now someplace no one ever thought they would be: 24 hours away from playing in the Final Four.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

The NBC Sports way-too-early Preseason Top 25

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The deadline has come and gone, meaning outside of a few highly-regarded freshmen, we now know what the rosters for just about every team in the country is going to look like this season.

So without further ado, here is the official — and, hopefully, final — NBCSports.com Preseason Top 25:

1. Duke

  • Returning: Grayson Allen, Luke Kennard, Matt Jones, Amile Jefferson, Chase Jeter
  • Newcomers: Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, Frank Jackson, Javin DeLaurier, Marques Bolden
  • Why they’re here: With Grayson Allen returning to school, Duke should be the consensus No. 1 team in the country. Allen and Kennard will fit perfectly on the perimeter with Jackson and Tatum while Jefferson will slide in nicely alongside Giles, giving Coach K what may be the most explosive offensive team that he’s ever coached. The x-factor here is, obviously, the health of Giles’ knees. He’s now had both knees surgically repaired and will have not played basketball for a year by the time Duke’s season kicks off.

2. Kentucky

  • Returning: Derek Willis, Dominique Hawkins, Isaac Humphries, Isaiah Briscoe
  • Newcomers: De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Bam Adebayo, Wenyen Gabriel, Sacha Killeya-Jones, Tai Wynyard
  • Why they’re here: Kentucky is No. 2 — more like No. 1b — because we were concerned about where they would get perimeter shooting from to space the floor. Fox, Monk and Adebayo will let Coach Cal return to his dribble-drive motion past, but the question is just how good of a shooter Gabriel and Killeya-Jones will be at the four and whether or not Willis can slide in and play small forward for a team at this level.

3. Kansas

  • Returning: Frank Mason III, Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk, Carlton Bragg, Landen Lucas, Lagerald Vick
  • Newcomers: Josh Jackson, Udoka Azubuike, Mitch Lightfoot
  • Why they’re here: That back court of Mason and Graham will be bolstered by Jackson, a supremely talented recruit that has the dog in him to fit in well with that group. If Svi and Bragg can take a step forward, Lucas, Azubuike and Lightfoot should be able to handle the pivot for a team that will be the favorite to win the Big 12.

4. Villanova

  • Returning: Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth, Mikal Bridges. Newcomers: Eric Paschall, Dylan Painter, Omari Spellman
  • Why they’re here: Losing Ryan Arcidiacono’s leadership is really going to hurt these Wildcats, but Brunson should be able to step into those shoes and have a major impact as the primary ball-handler immediately. Getting Hart back for his senior season is the difference-maker here, as the trio of Hart, Jenkins and Bridges will be a nightmare for anyone to deal with.

5. Oregon

  • Returning: Dillon Brooks, Tyler Dorsey, Chris Boucher, Jordan Bell, Casey Benson
  • Newcomers: Dylan Ennis*, M.J. Cage, Keith Smith, Payton Pritchard, Kavell Bigby Williams
  • Why they’re here: The Ducks were one of the best teams in this country this past season and not only will they return the majority of their key pieces, but they add Villanova transfer Ennis and a solid three-man recruiting class. The key is going to be whether or not Brooks opts to return to school for his junior season.

6. Michigan State

  • Returning: Eron Harris, Gavin Schilling, Matt McQuaid, Tum Tum Nairn
  • Newcomers: Miles Bridges, Joshua Langford, Cassius Winston, Nick Ward, Ben Carter
  • Why they’re here: The Spartans lose a ton — Denzel Valentine, Bryn Forbes, Matt Costello — but they also add a ton, bringing in a class headlined by Miles Bridges that is as talented as any that Tom Izzo has brought in in recent years. Their ceiling is high, but the question that needs to be answered is just how well they fit together and just how effective Winston and Nairn will be running the point.

7. Virginia

  • Returning: London Perrantes, Isaiah Wilkins, Devon Hall, Marial Shayok, Darius Thompson, Jarred Rueter
  • Newcomers: Austin Nichols, Kyle Guy, Jay Huff, Mamade Diakite, DeAndre Hunter, Ty Jerome
  • Why they’re here: Losing Anthony Gill and Malcolm Brogdon is a tough blow to overcome, but the Cavaliers now have a program that can survive personnel losses like that. Nichols will shine in that system, and we’re expecting one of Perrrantes, Hall, Shayok or Thompson to take a step forward offensively.

8. North Carolina

  • Returning: Joel Berry II, Justin Jackson, Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, Nate Britt, Theo Pinson, Kenny Williams
  • Newcomers: Tony Bradley, Brandon Robinson, Seventh Woods
  • Why they’re here: Assuming that the Tar Heels get the guys back that they’re supposed to get back, they should actually have a better team next season than some may realize. Might they actually be able to repeat as ACC regular season champions?

9. Arizona

  • Returning: Allonzo Trier, Kadeem Allen, Dusan Ristic, Parker Jackson-Cartwright
  • Newcomers: Ray Smith, Rawle Alkins, Terrence Ferguson, Lauri Markkanen, Kobi Simmons
  • Why they’re here: There are some very valid questions about how Arizona’s roster is going to fit together next season. With Trier, Alkins, Ferguson and Simmons all on the roster, will there be enough shots to go around? I’ll trust Sean Miller to get the most out of these guys, but there’s a chance that this No. 9 ranking could end up looking silly next March.

10. Louisville

  • Returning: Quentin Snider, Donovan Mitchell, Mangok Mathiang, Ray Spalding, Deng Adel, Anas Mahmoud
  • Newcomers: Tony Hicks, V.J. King
  • Why they’re here: The Cardinals are another team that are going to be better than I realized next season. They lose Damion Lee, but expect Mitchell, Adel, Spalding and Mahmoud to all take significant steps forward.

11. Wisconsin

  • Returning: Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig, Ethan Happ, Vitto Brown, Zak Showalter, Jordan Hill, Khalil Iverson, Charlie Thomas, Alex Illikainen
  • Newcomers: Andy Van Vliet, Brevin Pritzl
  • Why they’re here: The Badgers return literally everyone from this season, barring a surprise transfer or a player jumping to the NBA. We know about Hayes and Koenig, but don’t be surprised to see Ethan Happ turn into the best player on the roster by next season.

12. Gonzaga

  • Returning: Josh Perkins, Silas Melson, Przemek Karnowski
  • Newcomers: Nigel Williams-Goss, Johnathan Williams III, Zach Collins, Zach Norvell, Killian Tillie, Rui Hachimura
  • Why they’re here: The Zags may end up being better next season than they were last season, as Williams-Goss, Williams III and Collins may all end up being all-WCC players. They need Karnowski to decide to return for a fifth-year to anchor their defense.

13. Xavier

  • Returning: Trevon Bluiett, Edmond Sumner, Myles Davis, J.P. Macura, Kaiser Gates
  • Newcomers: Quentin Goodin, Tyrique Jones, RaShid Gaston
  • Why they’re here: We all saw how good Xavier can be this season, and they return the majority of their pieces. The big question with them next season will be in the front court, which is why we have them sitting at 13th.

14. Indiana

  • Returning: Thomas Bryant, James Blackmon Jr., Robert Johnson, O.G. Anunoby, Juwan Morgan
  • Newcomers: Josh Newkirk, De’Ron Davis, Grant Gelon, Devonte Green, Curtis Jones
  • Why they’re here: The Hoosiers are another team that is very up in the air at this point, even with Thomas Bryant back in the fold. Blackmon and Anunoby should be key, but Williams’ loss hurts and Yogi’s graduation is a massive void.

15. UCLA

  • Returning: Isaac Hamilton, Bryce Alford, Thomas Welsh, Aaron Holiday, Jonah Bolden
  • Newcomers: Lonzo Ball, T.J. Leaf, Kobe Paras, Ike Anigbogu
  • Why they’re here: UCLA is the ultimate wildcard. If Ball has the impact that he’s expected to have, they’ll be a top five team. I could also see them being a .500 team. Your guess is as good as mine.

16. Florida State

  • Returning: Dwayne Bacon, Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Terance Mann
  • Newcomers: Jonathan Isaac, Trent Forrest, Mfiondu Kabevgele, C.J. Walker
  • Why they’re here: There are talented pieces on this roster, and they should fit together better than the pieces on last year’s roster. Isaac is the wildcard here.

17. Maryland

  • Returning: Melo Trimble, Jared Nickens, Dion Wiley, Michal Cekovsky
  • Newcomers: Anthony Cowan, Kevin Hurter, Micah Thomas
  • Why they’re here: Because we’re assuming that Trimble is coming back to school. Cowan is going to be good, but if Trimble isn’t there, this team is going to be in full rebuilding mode, and even if he is, this ranking may still be somewhat high.

18. Dayton

  • Returning: Charles Cooke, Scoochie Smith, Kendall Pollard, Kyle Davis, Darrell Davis, Sam Miller
  • Newcomers: Josh Cunningham, Trey Landers
  • Why they’re here: They return basically everyone from last year’s team, including head coach Archie Miller, and add a former top 100 recruit in Josh Cunningham.

19. Rhode Island

  • Returning: E.C. Matthews, Jared Terrell, Hassan Martin, Kuran Iverson, Jarvis Garrett, Danny Hurley
  • Newcomers: Stanford Robinson, Mike Layssard, Jeff Dowtin, Cyril Langevine, Michael Tertsea
  • Why they’re here: The Rams are as talented as any team in the Atlantic 10 in recent memory. Can Danny Hurley put the pieces together?

20. Virginia Tech

  • Returning: Zach LeDay, Seth Allen, Justin Bibbs, Chris Clarke, Justin Robinson, Kerry Blackshear Jr., Devin Wilson, Ahmed Hill, Ty Outlaw
  • Newcomers: Khadeem Sy
  • Why they’re here: Because this.

21. Cincinnati

  • Returning: Troy Caupain, Gary Clark, Jacob Evans, Kevin Johnson, Justin Jenifer
  • Newcomers: Jaron Cumberland, Kyle Washington, Nysier Brooks
  • Why they’re here: We know how good their guards are. The key for them is going to be how much of an impact Washington has in the front court.

22. Purdue

  • Returning: Caleb Swanigan, Vince Edwards, Isaac Haas, Dakota Mathias, Ryan Cline, P.J. Thompson, Basil Smotherman
  • Newcomers: Carsen Edwards
  • Why they’re here: In one of the more surprising NBA Draft decisions, Caleb Swanigan opted to return to school for his sophomore season, meaning that the Boilermakers will once again have one of the biggest front lines.

23. Creighton

  • Returning: Mo Watson, Cole Huff, Isaiah Zierden, Khyri Thomas
  • Newcomers: Justin Patton, Marcus Foster
  • Why they’re here: Watson and Foster will headline the Bluejays one of the nation’s best back courts. Their ceiling will be determined by just how good Cole Huff and Justin Patton end up being on their front line.

24. USC

  • Returning: Jordan McLaughlin, Bennie Boatwright, Elijah Stewart, Chimezie Metu
  • Newcomers: Shaqquan Aaron, Harrison Henderson, Jonah Mathews, De’Anthony Melton
  • Why they’re here: USC loses Julian Jacobs but still brings back the majority of their important pieces while adding Louisville transfer Shaqquan Aaron to the mix. They were supposed to be a year away last season when they reached the NCAA tournament as a No. 8 seed.

25. Saint Mary’s

  • Returning: Emmett Naar, Dane Pineau, Calvin Hermanson, Joe Rahon, Evan Fitzneg, Jock Landale
  • Newcomers: Jordan Ford, Elijah Thomas
  • Why they’re here: The Gaels were a year away last season, when they won 29 games and a share of the WCC regular season title. They return everyone from that team, which was top 25 in offensive efficiency.

ALSO CONSIDERED

  • Syracuse (Returning: Tyler Lydon, Tyler Roberson, Franklin Howard; Newcomers: Paschal Chukwu, Tyus Battle, Matthew Moyer, John Gillion)
  • Texas (Returning: Kerwin Roach Jr., Eric Davis Jr., Tevin Mack, Shaquille Cleare; Newcomers: Andrew Jones, Jacob Young, James Banks)
  • Texas A&M (Returning: Tyler Davis, Tonny Trocha-Morelos, Admon Gilder, D.J. Hogg, Kobie Eubanks; Newcomers: J.J. Caldwell, Robert Williams)
  • Wichita State (Retuning: Landry Shamet, Markis McDuffie, Conner Frankamp, Rashard Kelly, Zach Brown, Shaquille Morris; Newcomers: Peyton Allen, C.J. Keyser)
  • Miami (Returning: Davon Reed, Ja’Quan Newton, Anthony Lawrence Jr.; Newcomers: Bruce Brown, Dewan Huell, Rodney Miller, Dejan Vasilijevic, Rashad Muhammad)
  • UConn (Returning: Rodney Purvis, Jalen Adams, Amida Brimah, Steve Enoch; Newcomers: Terry Larrier, Juwan Durham, Alterique Gilbert, Vance Jackson, Mamadou Diarra)
  • West Virginia (Returning: Jevon Carter, Daxter Miles Jr., Tarik Phillip, Esa Ahmad, Nathan Adrian, Elijan Macon; Newcomers: Maciej Bender, Chase Harler, Brandon Knapper, Sagaba Konate)

White decides to return to Nebraska

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Nebraska’s second-leading scorer from last season will return for his senior season as Andrew White III announced Wednesday he will withdraw his name from the NBA Draft.

“I felt good about the pre-draft process, White said in a statement released by Nebraska. “It was encouraging, and I gained as much ground as anyone throughout the process. I wanted one more year to fine tune my game and put myself in better position for the NBA next summer.  

“I want to thank the teams who invited me their in-house workouts, and Nebraska for supporting me during this process.  It has been very helpful in gathering information in preparation for my future Thank you to everyone who has been following my progress throughout the spring and being understanding and supportive, as I evaluated whether to turn pro or return for my senior year.”

White, a Kansas transfer, tallied 16.6 points per game last season while shooting 48.1 percent from the floor and 41.2 percent from 3-point range. He also pulled down 5.9 rebounds per game.

“We are excited to have Andrew remain with our program,” coach Tim Miles said. “This has been a valuable time for him, as he has tested his skills against some of the best competition and received very important insight from key NBA personnel.  

“We look forward to continuing to help Andrew’s development to improve his NBA profile even more than he already has done through this process.  I believe next year could be our most complete team with a great opportunity for success in the Big Ten and NCAA tournament, I’m happy Andrew will be with us to go out and prove it.”

The news is certainly welcome for the Cornhuskers and Miles, who will be under pressure to show improvement after back-to-back disappointing seasons following an NCAA tournament appearance in 2014. Shavon Shields, last year’s leading scorer, has exhausted his eligibility and the Huskers will need White to help fill the void.

Trimble coming back to Terps

Maryland guard Melo Trimble (AP Photo/Matt Hazlett)
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Melo Trimble is returning to Maryland.

The Terrapin guard will be back to for his junior season in College Park, according to multiple reports.

Trimble went from freshman first-rounder to question mark after a rough end to his sophomore season for Maryland in which his points per game, shooting percentage (both overall and from 3-point range) and rebounding dipped from his first season. Only his assists per game showed any sort of improvement. He waited until the last possible day to announce his intentions to return to school, but really his options were limited after seeing his production drop.

His decision to come back to school gives him a shot to restore his draft stock while Maryland gets its floor general back to help ease the transition from last year’s Sweet 16 squad that lost Diamond Stone, Rasheed Sulaimon and Jake Layman. The Terps might not be a sure-fire top-25 team with Trimble back, but their NCAA tournament chances are now significantly higher.

Nevada lands Martin twins

Caleb Martin, Jordan Roper
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Eric Musselman keeps adding reinforcements to his roster. For the 2017-18 season.

Musselman and Nevada received commitments from N.C. State transfers and twin brothers Caleb and Cody Martin, according to multiple reports.

That brings Nevada’s sit-out transfer count for this upcoming season to four with Hallice Cooke (Iowa State) and Kendall Stephens (Purdue) already in the fold. Under NCAA transfer rules, the quartet will have to sit out the upcoming season before being eligible in 2017-18.

Caleb averaged 11.5 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.4 assists while shooting 36 percent from deep while Cody put up 6.0 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists, shooting 43 percent from beyond the arc.

The timing of having four sit-out transfers works well for the Wolf Pack given that two of the team’s three leading scorers from last year, D.J. Fenner (a senior) and Cameron Oliver (a sophomore), return while senior transfers Marcus Marshall (Missouri State) becomes eligible. Having those four experienced transfers begin playing in 2017-18 while all but two players from this upcoming team slated to return makes Nevada an interesting team, a year from now.

Louisville big man heading to NBA Draft

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After a day of mixed messages, Louisville’s Chinanu Onuaku finally made it official.

He’s staying in the NBA Draft.

“After talking to my family and going through the NBA process,” Onuaku wrote in an Instagram post, “me and my family have decided that it would be best for me to keep my name in the draft.”

The day started out with Cardinals coach Rick Pitino telling multiple media outlets that the 6-foot-10 sophomore would remain in the draft after he declared last month without an agent and attended the draft combine. Onuaku, though, appeared to at least mildly refute that with an Instagram post that said his decision wouldn’t come until later Wednesday evening. Which it did, confirming Pitino’s words.

The confusion may have been frustrating for observers, but Onuaku’s social media presence no doubt has benefited from the bizarre day.

Onuaku averaged 9.9 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 1.6 assists in 24.6 minutes per game last season, making his per-40 numbers, a metric NBA teams like to take into consideration, nothing short of fantastic. He also shot a not-so-shabby 62.0 percent from the floor. His size, athleticism and ability to score around the basket (he’s taken one 3-pointer in two seasons) make him a potential first-round selection in next month’s draft.

The 19-year-old Onuaku underwent a procedure on his heart last week due to Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome. It has been described as a minor procedure that will not affect his ability to play long-term or work out with teams leading up to the draft.

The Cardinals, meanwhile, should be able to absorb Onuaku’s loss seemlessly as they return the bulk of last year’s team that went 23-8 and was ranked 10th in KenPom, but was banned from the postseason as a result of the Katina Powell bombshell. Newcomers Tony Hicks (Penn transfer) and V.J. King (consensus top-30 recruit) will also make for solid additions.