How can Wichita State build on the two best years in program history?

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The NCAA tournament is the greatest sporting event in the United States, and if it wasn’t for the unification of ‘Murica in support of the stars and stripes at the World Cup this past June, I think that you would be hard-pressed to find anything that can hold a vice-grip on the ever-dwindling attention span of an entire nation of sports fans for a month like March Madness can.

But while you are filling out your brackets and wildly cheering on that No. 13 seed, hoping a team without a single player that you can name pulls off the upset, the one-and-done nature of the NCAA tournament can be a fickle beast for the people participating in it.

One tough draw, one off night, and an entire season’s body of work can be forgotten in the annals of history. Deep tournament runs and early tourney exits are remembered much more vividly than, say, a regular season conference title. A 25-win season might get a coach a raise. A trip to the Sweet 16 will get him a better job. The tourney is always holding trump cards.

Case in point: Wichita State.

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This past season, the Shockers put together arguably the single-greatest regular season of all-time. They entered the NCAA tournament at 34-0 after steamrolling through league play with very few real challenges while posting the best regular season record in the history of college basketball. But thanks to No. 8-seed Kentucky, a preseason top five team that didn’t figure out how to play together until the night before the SEC tournament, the Shockers were sent packing without reaching the second weekend of the tournament.

All it took was one game — one game where Wichita State played as well as they had all season, losing one of the best-played, most entertaining games you’ll watch — to turn a historical year into a footnote for a team that didn’t make the Sweet 16.

“It was really great to go 35-0, that’s a really great accomplishment,” star guard Ron Baker told NBCSports at the Kevin Durant Skills Academy last month. “But the regular season is kind of a season in itself. When you get to the tournament, it almost feels like a whole nother year. A different season. And for us, that result was pretty disappointing.”

Wichita State had gone almost a full year in between losses, and for Baker, it was difficult for him to process that such a successful season had come to such an abrupt halt. “I reflected on it a lot,” he said, adding that it wasn’t until the sting from the upset wore off that he was truly able to appreciate what he and his team were able to do. “Once the season’s over and you sit down for a couple days, you slow down and think about what you accomplished.

“And it’s pretty phenomenal, especially when you look back in history. We’re the only team to go 35-0. It’s been special.”

RELATED: How borderline Division I recruits fight for scholarships in July

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“We had an amazing year,” point guard Fred Van Vleet told NBCSports during a break in the action at the Point Guard Skills Academy in New Jersey in June. “We don’t really define our season off of that game.”

That appreciation wasn’t there while the Shockers were in the middle of their run, however. They weren’t thinking about what an undefeated season would mean historically or how they had a chance to get their names in the record books. They were focused on winning, on doing the things that it took to make sure that they kept that ‘0’ in their loss column.

They were on a mission.

“It was really hard to enjoy it during the season,” Baker said. “There’s practice every day. Weights, lifting. And we’re all competitive. [We did our] best to have fun with it.”

The season before Wichita State made a run at perfection, they were the latest in a long line of cinderellas from the mid-major ranks that traipsed their way through their region and into the Final Four.

And they did it despite the fact that their regular season ended in frustration.

In 2012-2013, the Shockers started the season 19-2, going 8-1 in Missouri Valley play and climbing to No. 15 in the country before losing three straight and five of their last ten regular season games. They wound up in the 8-9 game in the same bracket as Gonzaga, the No. 1 overall seed. But between a hot-shooting second half that sparked an upset of the ‘Zags and a beneficial draw in the later rounds that gave the Shockers matchups with La Salle and Ohio State, Marshall’s band of misfits made it all the way to the Final Four. And if it wasn’t for Louisville guard Tim Henderson’s heroics, they might have found themselves in the national title game.

It creates a weird dynamic, as the Shockers may end up being better remembered for a season in which they struggled through February and early March than for the year where they won their first 35 games. Maybe I’m wrong, and I hope I am, but the casual fan will likely put more stock in winning four games on national television in the NCAA tournament than they will 34 games on ESPN3 in places like Des Moines, Iowa, and Springfield, Missouri.

RELATED: A Division III transfer is being recruited by Michigan?

It also creates expectations. Baker is a redshirt sophomore. He’s entering his fourth year in the program, during which time the Shockers have made three NCAA tournaments, won two regular season titles and a MVC tournament title, reached a Final Four and earned a No. 1 seed with an undefeated regular season. Prior to his arrival, the Shockers had made one NCAA tournament since 1988.

What happens if the Shockers “only” win the conference and fail to make it out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament this season?

“If we would’ve done that six years ago at Wichita State, they would have been really pleased,” Baker said. “Now, to make the tournament, it’s expected of us,” but to listen to the two Shockers stars speak, those expectations and that notoriety are what drive them.

“[Success brings] a little bit more popularity, people recognize you. Respect as well,” Van Vleet said. “Those two things are nice. With that comes a lot more work that you’ve got to put in to keep getting better. You don’t want to plateau out.”

What “a lot more work” includes has been early morning workouts for Van Vleet, Baker and senior guard Tekele Cotton, as they spent part of their summer waking up at 6:30 a.m. to workout before coaching at Wichita State’s summer basketball camp. And that would be just the first or two or three workouts on a typical day.

“I’ve never done that before,” Van Vleet said with a laugh. “I’m not a morning guy.”

For Baker, that work included improving his mid-range game, floaters and 8-10 foot finishes, as well as his ability to create separation off the bounce and get to the rim on straight line drives. For Van Vleet, he’s been focused on improving his athleticism and his ability to be a scorer, which is something that both players will need to improve upon without Cleanthony Early around to shoulder the scoring load.

And if they can do that, the Shockers should once again be a team capable of making the Sweet 16 and advancing further, but that won’t leave them satisfied.

“Honestly, we look at [Gonzaga, Butler and VCU] and see what they’ve built, and I’m sure Coach Marshall feels that he wants to build something like that, but the goal is always a national championship,” Van Vleet said. “Make it to that game, play in that game, win that game.

“I would be lying to say that wasn’t our goal at the beginning of the season.”

UT Arlington coach Scott Cross wins the #DriveByDunkChallenge by dunking over his son

(Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images)
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UT Arlington head coach Scott Cross is the current leader in the #DriveByDunkChallenge, the latest social media craze that endorses dunking on random hoops while cruising through a neighborhood.

After Kentucky head coach John Calipari set the bar for college head coaches in the challenge with his dunk on late Friday night, Cross came in strong by putting on some Lil Jon and taking flight over his own son on a random hoop.

Between the soundtrack selection and using his own son as a prop in his dunk, Cross has set a strong standard among college coaches for this challenge.

(H/t: Mid-Major Madness)

Mississippi State stays hot with commitment from four-star 2018 guard D.J. Stewart

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Mississippi State stayed hot on the recruiting trail on Monday as they scored an in-state pledge from four-star shooting guard D.J. Stewart.

The 6-foot-5 Stewart is the second major commitment to the Bulldogs and head coach Ben Howland this July as five-star forward Reggie Perry announced his intentions to go to Mississippi State last week.

After not having a single Division I scholarship offer entering April, Stewart exploded on the national landscape with his play with Mississippi Express in the Nike EYBL.

Regarded now as the No. 106 overall prospect in the Rivals national Class of 2018 rankings, Stewart has some upside as a wing scorer and defender at the college level.

Four-star forward Joey Hauser gives Marquette important Class of 2018 commitment

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Marquette earned an important commitment on Sunday as four-star Class of 2018 forward Joey Hauser pledged to the Golden Eagles.

The 6-foot-8 Hauser will join his brother, Marquette sophomore forward Sam Hauser, for two seasons in Milwaukee as he’s regarded as the No. 43 overall prospect in the national Class of 2018.

A tough and versatile forward who can play either spot in the frontcourt, Hauser is Marquette’s first Class of 2018 pledge as head coach Steve Wojciechowski has kept another talented player at home.

Now that Hauser has committed, Marquette can look for more perimeter threats in the class since they will also get former four-star wing forward Brendan Bailey coming in for that class. Bailey is on a two-year mission trip and will be another talented piece for that group as the Golden Eagles will try to compliment them with another guard.

Five Takeaways from the Under Armour All-America Camp

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PHILADELPHIA — The Under Armour All-America Camp might have had the best overall collection of talent in the country during the second week of the July Live Evaluation Period as top-100 players from multiple classes took part in a three-day camp at Philadelphia University.

With a few Class of 2018 five-star prospects in attendance, and some others making names for themselves, it was a great chance to see some of the best players that will be entering college basketball for the 2019-20 season. Here are five takeaways from the camp.

1. Four-star point guard Devon Dotson is coming on strong in the Class of 2018

The crop of point guards in the Class of 2018 is strong when it comes to players who could have a major impact at the college level. While we’ve spoken about players like Immanuel Quickley, Tre Jones and Darius Garland as the best in the class, the second tier of guys is also strong.

One of the players who will push five-star status after July is North Carolina native Devon Dotson. The 6-foot-1 native of Charlotte was the best player overall at the Under Armour All-America Camp as he was unstoppable off the dribble. Scoring in multiple ways around the basket, including some thunderous dunks, Dotson is a very good athletic if he gets a full head of steam going towards the rim.

Dotson can occasionally get tunnel vision when he has the ball in his hands, but coaches also have to like the ultra-aggressive way that Dotson plays the game. Always putting pressure on the defense with the way that he plays, Dotson is a consistent three-pointer away from being a major problem in college.

Back in June, Dotson named a top eight of Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Maryland, Miami, Ohio State, USC and Wake Forest as it’ll be interesting to see if things heat up after his strong camp performance.

2. The upside of Class of 2018 center Moses Brown is scary

The Class of 2018 has a glaring lack of potential one-and-done players and a short supply of big men. As a fluid 7-foot-1 big man with a rapidly rising skill level, you can see why New York native Moses Brown has positioned himself as a consensus top-ten player in this class.

Moving very well for his size, Brown is still learning how to be productive at all times as he continues to add strength and coordination, but he’s now learning how to also use his extreme gifts to his advantage. Brown has now become a consistent presence at the rim thanks to his length and defensive IQ and he’s also rebounding near rim level at every play. Also improving as an offensive player, Brown showed some versatility by pushing off of rebounds and making more plays as a passer.

Still a tad inconsistent in terms of overall motor and offensive production, Brown could stand to work more on his post game beyond a hook, but he’s also the type of big man who should fit in well with the new age of basketball. Brown wasn’t tested a lot defending high ball screens in Philadelphia, but he has a chance to be a very disruptive defender at all levels of basketball if he continues to get better. 

3. Class of 2018 point guard Jahvon Quinerly continues to impress

It wasn’t the strongest camp showing in terms of production from five-star point guard Jahvon Quinerly, but he also displayed the ball handling, passing and leadership that made him one of the best players in the nation this spring.

Possibly having the tightest handles in the class, Quinerly has the ball on a string at all times and it enables him to make a lot of difficult passes for easy buckets off of drives. Also gifted as a perimeter shooter, Quinerly should be a gifted enough floor spacer to play a bit off the ball and still be a weapon on the three-point line.

Something to keep an eye on with Quinerly’s development will be how he adjusts to long and athletic defenders at all positions. Without elite burst, Quinerly will have to use some counter moves the get open and scoring over length is another area that Quinerly can work on. But with his combination of overall basketball savvy and skill level, Quinerly should be a great college player.

Still considering Arizona, Kansas, Stanford, UCLA, Villanova and Virginia, Quinerly had an official visit to the Wildcats already.

4. Class of 2018 big man Riley Battin opens eyes with production

Opening eyes with his play at the Under Armour All-America Camp with his overall skill and production was three-star Class of 2018 big man Riley Battin. Shooting 59 percent from the field during the week while finishing near the top in overall camp scoring, the 6-foot-8 Battin is an intriguing player at the next level even if he isn’t the greatest athlete.

With great footwork and good touch on his jumper from all three levels, Battin can knock down three-pointers (42 percent this spring in the UAA) while also scoring in the post or the mid-range. Already taking an official visit to Vanderbilt towards the end of August, Colorado, Davidson, Georgia Tech, Northwestern, Utah and Wichita State are also involved.

Battin is the type of player who won’t get a lot of hype in national recruiting rankings but he could very well be a damaging player in the right system. A tough cover because of some unconventional moves, Battin could be a lot of fun to watch at the next level.

5. The second week of the July live period needs a major overhaul

The Under Armour All-America Camp was a strong event during a weak second week of July and it’ll be curious to see if any changes are made to fix the timing of this on the recruiting calendar.

With all three major shoe companies having major summer championships the week before many of the nation’s elite players played in high-profile events last week before getting injured or sitting out the second week

Since the first week of the recruiting calendar is heavy in Georgia and South Carolina and the third week mostly goes to Las Vegas, the second week is also way more spread out than any other time during the July period. The coast-to-coast nature of events during the second week of July makes it tough for college coaches traveling because the talent is so diluted at most events.

It’ll be interesting to see if any changes occur with how events are run or how the calendar looks because the second week featured a lot of watered-down play.

Buffalo sophomore arrested, charged with strangulation, witness intimidation

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Buffalo sophomore Quate McKinzie is facing a litany of charges stemming from an incident in which he allegedly attempted to strangle a female acquaintance.

McKinzie, who is 20 years old, was later handed more charges after he made threatening phone calls to his accuser from jail.
From the Buffalo News:

The original charges placed against the UB sophomore were second-degree strangulation, a D-felony; misdemeanor counts of criminal obstruction of breathing, assault, menacing, harassment; and stealing the victim’s vehicle.

The latest charges are third-degree witness intimidation and first-degree criminal contempt, both E-felonies; and two misdemeanors, aggravated harassment and disobeying a court mandate, according to Tonawanda Police Patrol Capt. Fredric Foels.

“University Athletics is aware of the alleged incident and is in communication with university and local authorities,” Buffalo released in a statement. “Quate McKinzie is currently enrolled at the University at Buffalo and is suspended indefinitely from the university’s basketball team. Due to the ongoing investigation and federal protections on student information, we will have no further comment on the matter at this time.”

McKinzie is a 6-foot-8, 195 pound forward that played in 17 games last season. He averaged 3.9 points and 4.3 boards.