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Wichita State isn’t ready to settle for just one Final Four run

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here.

Things changed quickly for Wichita State.

One year ago at this time, Gregg Marshall’s club wasn’t looked at as much more than a good mid-major program, a hodgepodge of castaways and the overlooked that, for whatever reason, couldn’t latch on at a bigger program. Wichita State was the team slotted behind nationally ranked Creighton and their golden boy All-American Doug McDermott, a program that was just good enough to be nationally-known for their, ahem, unique nickname; the Shockers.

But that all changed last March, when the Shockers smacked beat before shocking No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga to reach the Sweet 16. After a win over La Salle brought about a trip to the Elite 8, Wichita State hung on despite nearly blowing a 20 point lead to Ohio State, advancing to the program’s first Final Four since 1965.

All of a sudden, the Shockers were more than a name.

They were famous.

“It definitely went over the top,” Cleanthony Early said of the attention the Final Four sent his way. “I didn’t know how it was going to be.”

“It was pretty overwhelming over the summer,” Ron Baker added. “There are some times when you’ve got to step away from certain things, like when you go out with your friends and stuff like that.”

(CLICK HERE to read NBCSports.com’s Missouri Valley Conference Preview)

It wasn’t just the Final Four, either. Over the summer, Creighton made the jump from the MVC to the Big East, meaning that the Shockers and their No. 17 ranking in the NBCSports.com Top 25 are now the face of the conference, all by themselves. Marshall’s Merry Band of Misfits may not be household names just yet, but there’s no questioning the respect they are getting nationally. Early, who just two years ago was playing at a Division III Junior College, is now a legitimate NBA prospect that was named an honorable mention all-america by NBCSports.com.

But with that attention comes expectations, and to his credit, Marshall is doing as much as he can to downplay the expectations currently saddling his team.

“Hopefully we get to play some of them,[but] that’s all opinion right now,” Marshall said of there being 16 teams ranked ahead of his club. “That’ll be determined on the court. We just will continue to work hard and get better throughout the course of the season and see where it takes us.”

That’s about as typical as coachspeak gets. Downplay expectations, compliment opponents, praise the hard work being done behind the scenes and simply hope for the best. The only thing Marshall was missing was a reference to God and the stereotype would have been complete.

But the bottom line is that expectations within the program have certainly grown, just like they have with the fans and just like they have with the media. Teams don’t make the Final Four and then simply decide to set their sights on just another tournament berth. Accomplishment is addicting, and once you get that first taste of success — especially when it comes with the notoriety that a Final Four berth brings — anything less will leave you unsatisfied.

(CLICK HERE to read through the rest of NBCSports.com’s feature stories)

Wichita State wants to be the next Butler. They want to be the next VCU. They don’t want to be the next George Mason, falling back to mediocrity after a run to the Final Four.

“[The attention has] definitely slowed down since the season’s neared,” Baker said. “For me, that’s good, because I can focus on this year and let the past be the past. Just get ready for the season, because we’ve got goals this year we’re trying to get towards.”

The Shockers will have some pieces to replace this year if they are going to make another run. Veterans Carl Hall and Malcolm Armstead both graduated, leaving gaps at the point and in the pivot. The point guard spot should be a quick fix, as talented sophomore Fred VanVleet appears ready to take over the reins. A former top 100 recruit, VanVleet showed some flashes of what he’s capable of in the limited minutes he had as a freshman. With a perimeter attack that will also include Early, Baker, the now-healthy Evan Wessel and Tekele Cotton, there aren’t many teams that the Shockers won’t be able to matchup with.

The front court is a bit more concerning, as Wichita State lost both starters from a season ago. Kadeem Coleby should fill a hole in the middle as a rebounder and a shot-blocker in his one and only season with the Shockers. More interesting, however, will be how quickly Darius Carter adjusts to major Division I basketball. A JuCo all-american last season, Carter should provide some scoring pop along the front line.

As there is with any team, the Shockers will have some kinks to work out once the season begins, but the potential is there for this group to make another run.

This group isn’t resting on their laurels. As of now, those Final Four rings are nothing but a paperweight.

“I’m not a ring guy,” Baker said. “It’s pretty big. A little to noticeable for me.”

“But it looks good in a jewelry box.”

The Champions Classic renewed through 2019

LAWRENCE, KS - FEBRUARY 27: Bill Self head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks claps for his team as they celebrate winning the Big 12 Conference Championship after they defeated Texas Tech Red Raiders 67-58 at Allen Fieldhouse on February 27, 2016 in Lawrence, Kansas. With the win, Kansas clinched its 12th straight conference championship. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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The Champions Classic is back, baby!!!

On Wednesday, the four schools that participate in the event — Kentucky, Duke, Kansas and Michigan State — announced that they have signed deals to extend the life of the doubleheader for another three years.

This is terrific news. The Champions Classic is always the best early-season event of the season, an annual double-header that always ends up putting together two of the best non-conference games in packed NBA arenas. This year, it features Duke, the consensus preseason No. 1 team in the country, squaring off with Kansas, who is a consensus top three team with the No. 1 freshman in the class, Josh Jackson, on their roster, in one game.

The other game? Kentucky, the third consensus top three team nationally, going up against Tom Izzo and Michigan State, who will be, at worst, a top 15 team in the preseason polls.

So yeah, we’re going to get a pair of sensational basketball games in Madison Square Garden on Nov. 15th. MSG also just so happens to be the best arena to watch a great neutral site basketball game.

It’s going to be awesome.

There’s only one possible way to make it better: turn it into a two-day event, with the winners squaring off for the Champions Classic title the following night.

Make it happen.

Anyway, here’s the schedule:

Nov. 14, 2017 (United Center, Chicago)
Kansas vs. Kentucky
Duke vs. Michigan State

Nov. 13, 2018 (Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis)
Michigan State vs. Kansas
Duke vs. Kentucky

Nov. 12, 2019 (Madison Square Garden, New York)
Kansas vs. Duke
Michigan State vs. Kentucky

Hartford makes smart decision to allow ‘Pancake’ Thomas transfer

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Another talented graduate transfer has hit the market.

Cleveland ‘Pancake’ Thomas — that’s a helluva name, isn’t it? — has been granted a release by Hartford and will be allowed to transfer to another program for his fifth season.

“Our biggest priority for Cleveland was that he graduate from the University of Hartford with a valuable degree,” Hartford head coach John Gallagher said in a statement released to ESPN after some speculation that Thomas wasn’t going to be given a release. “That happened. Beyond wishing him the very best, we don’t comment on other program’s players. We are very excited about our group and the upcoming season.”

The term “release” is needed here because Thomas, a 6-foot-3 guard who averaged 18.9 points and shot 42.6 percent from three this past season, spent his first two years of eligibility at New Mexico. A graduate transfer exception is granted to any player making their first transfer after receiving an undergraduate degree. But since Pancake had already transferred once, he was only eligible to apply for a graduate transfer waiver, which the school he is leaving must support.

Remember the saga of Todd O’Brien? He tried to leave St. Joseph’s to spend his fifth-year at UAB but made headlines everywhere when Phil Martelli wouldn’t let it happen? That’s because O’Brien had started his career at Bucknell and needed Martelli to support the waiver.

Gallagher could have done the same to Pancake.

He made the right decision not to — Martelli has enough coaching cache to withstand the onslaught on criticism he received, I’m not sure that is true for Gallagher — even if it will result in Thomas playing elsewhere, hence the cold-hearted nature of that statement.

Anyway, Thomas never averaged more than 3.9 points at New Mexico, so while he’s a tantalizing prospect for programs that are dying for perimeter depth and shooting, this isn’t exactly a kid that’s going to launch himself into the NBA Draft’s first round by jumping up to a higher level.

Shawn Forrest named assistant coach for Jankovich at SMU

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 22:  Head coach Larry Brown (L) and associate head coach Tim Jankovich of the Southern Methodist Mustangs look on during the team's game against the Kent State Golden Flashes during the 2015 Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic basketball tournament at the Orleans Arena on December 22, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Southern Methodist won 90-74. The game marks Brown's return from a nine-game suspension.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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DALLAS (AP) Shawn Forrest has been named an assistant basketball coach at SMU, his third school since the end of last season.

Mustangs coach Tim Jankovich announced Forrest’s hiring Tuesday.

Forrest spent the past three seasons as an assistant at Western Kentucky before head coach Ray Harper resigned. Forrest was named a UTSA assistant in May, but two weeks later left for Louisiana Tech before the unexpected opening at SMU.

Jankovich was SMU’s associate head coach before the abrupt resignation last month of Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown. Forrest fills the open assistant spot created on the staff when Jankovich was promoted to head coach.

Before Western Kentucky, Forrest was an assistant coach at Louisiana-Lafayette, North Texas, Arkansas State and Florida A&M.

Jim Boeheim’s Melo comments are evidence of why athletes hate the media

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 21:  Carmelo Anthony #15 of the United States poses with Team USA assistant coach Jim Boeheim after defeating Serbia in the Men's Gold medal game on Day 16 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 21, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim has a habit of creating headlines that are not all that flattering, to himself or to the people that he’s commenting on, which is why it wasn’t much of a surprise that a quote he gave to Mike Waters of the Syracuse Post-Standard has been making the rounds this week.

The quote in question?

“He’s unlikely to win an NBA title,” Boeheim said of his former star and now three-time Olympic champion Carmelo Anthony. “He’s never been on a team that even had a remote chance of winning an NBA title.”

That sounds bad, doesn’t it?

But … I mean, he’s right, isn’t he?

Melo is 32 years old and title-less. He’s been to the conference finals once and gotten out of the first round of the playoffs just twice, and now he’s on the downside of his career. Athletes don’t get better as they exit their early 30s unless they’re taking whatever it was that turned Barry Bonds into a cyborg. Adding the remnants of Derrick Rose and a 31 year old Joakim Noah is helpful, but unless those contracts can teleport the Knicks back to 2011, Rose will be the only person calling this group a Super Team.

So yeah, Boeheim is right. You probably think so, too. Melo is probably never going to win an NBA title unless he finds a way to get to the Cavs.

But here’s the thing: focusing on that one line totally ignores the point that Boeheim was making in the interview. As always, context is critical, and if you read the story that Waters wrote, it’s pretty obvious the message that Boeheim was trying to get across. Melo is not going to leave a legacy in the NBA beyond being a guy that got a lot of buckets. It just didn’t work out for him that way. Ask Karl Malone how that feels.

But by going to Rio for the 2016 Olympics, by becoming the first men’s basketball player to win three Olympic gold medals, Melo did solidify himself a legacy.

He’s the most accomplished and, arguably, the best player that Team USA has ever had. That’s not going to make up for the rings that are missing on his fingers, but it does cement his place in the history of the game.

That was Boeheim’s point, and it was a salient, intelligent point, one that complimented Melo for the success that he had in international play.

But if you scroll through your favorite blogs and see that headline, it looks like he was taking a shot at the player that brought him his only national title.

And given how twisted that quote has gotten, is it any wonder why athletes and coaches hate the media?

UPDATE (1:30 p.m.): Boeheim has weighed in:

Oregon wins their opener on Spanish tour

Oregon forward Elgin Cook, from left, forward Dillon Brooks and guard Tyler Dorsey react after a play against Washington during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the quarterfinal round of the Pac-12 men's tournament Thursday, March 10, 2016, in Las Vegas. Oregon won 83-77. (AP Photo/John Locher)
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Oregon won the opener of their tour in Spain 109-88 on Tuesday night, as the Ducks knocked off a team of all-stars in Madrid.

Tyler Dorsey had 19 points to lead the Ducks while Kavell Bigby-Williams and Dylan Ennis, who is coming off of a season derailed by foot injuries, both added 16 points. Chris Boucher, who was terrific at the Nike Skills Academy in July, had 12 points.

While Ennis’ health was noteworthy, it is also worth pointing out that Oregon’s star Dillon Brooks did not play on Monday and will not be playing on the trip. I know this because, in every photo posted by the official Oregon team accounts, Brooks is in a chair with a boot on his left foot.

The rising junior, a potential all-american, had surgery on the foot earlier this month.