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.”

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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.

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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.”

2018 NCAA Tournament: Sweet 16 betting odds and national title futures

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With four more top threes falling out of the NCAA tournament on Sunday, here are the updated national title futures and betting odds in the NCAA tournament.

Odds via

Villanova: 4/1
Duke: 6/1
Michigan: 8/1
Kentucky: 8/1
Kansas: 10/1
Gonzaga: 12/1
Purdue: 15/1
West Virginia: 22/1
Texas Tech: 25/1
Nevada: 100/1
Texas A&M: 100/1
Loyola Chicago: 100/1
Clemson: 125/1
Kansas State: 125/1
Syracuse: 125/1
Florida State: 150/1

No. 5 West Virginia earns blowout win over in-state rival No. 13 Marshall

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West Virginia completely dominated in-state rival and No. 13 seed Marshall for a 94-71 second-round win in the NCAA tournament on Sunday night.

The No. 5 Mountaineers (26-10) made it back to the Sweet 16 for the second straight campaign, and for the third time in four years, as senior guard and All-American Jevon Carter had another monster outing with 28 points, five assists, four rebounds and four steals.

West Virginia went 12-for-25 from three-point range and crashed the glass for 15 offensive rebounds during an impressive offensive performance. It’s also notable that head coach Bob Huggins changed up his defensive approach during some of this game from the usual “Press” Virginia. Going to a 1-2-2 zone to disrupt Marshall’s high-powered offense, 6-foot-8 Lamont West was stationed at the top of the zone as his length gave the Thundering Herd offense issues.

West Virginia, and Carter in particular, look like they mean business with the way they played this opening weekend. While many teams in the field had either upset losses or close scares, the Mountaineers won by an average margin of victory of 20 points in two wins this weekend. West Virginia only faced a No. 12 and No. 13 seed, but the Mountaineers never let off the gas the entire weekend.

Marshall (25-11) was a fun team to watch in this tournament because of its uptempo offense and propensity to shoot deep three-pointers. America learned about junior guard Jon Elmore and his ridiculous range in the Thundering Herd’s upset win over No. 4 seed Wichita State on Friday afternoon.

But Elmore (15 points) and fellow guard C.J. Burks (12 points) struggled to knock down shots in this one as they combined to go 7-for-27 from the field on Sunday. Ajdin Paneva led Marshall with 18 points as he was the team’s only consistent offensive option.

The Thundering Herd were blown out by a superior team on Sunday, but Dan D’Antoni’s ballclub was one of the most pleasant surprises of this tournament. After winning the Conference USA tournament and eliminating the Shockers in the Big Dance, D’Antoni has established some legitimate credibility for his program. And with minimal seniors on the roster, Marshall could be in position to make another run to the tournament next season.

With the win, West Virginia advances to play No. 1 seed Villanova in the East Regional in Boston on Friday night. After getting multiple chances to tie the game on the final possession and failing to convert during a memorable loss to No. 1 seed Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 last season, the Mountaineers will have a lot of motivation when they tip against the Wildcats.

The backcourt matchup between Villanova’s Jalen Brunson and Carter might also be the most riveting individual matchup of the entire tournament. Not only are Brunson and Carter both All-Americans this season, but they’re also former AAU teammates who are very familiar with each other’s games.

In a Sweet 16 full of unusual matchups and surprise teams, the Villanova/West Virginia game is appointment television.

2018 NCAA Tournament: Sweet 16 tip times, TV channels, announcer pairings

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With the first weekend of the NCAA tournament in the books, the Sweet 16’s tip times and TV assignments have been announced for teams looking to book a trip to the Elite 8. All times Eastern.


ATLANTA: Brian Anderson, Chris Webber, Lisa Byington

  • 7:07 p.m.: No. 11 Loyola-Chicago vs. No. 7 Nevada, CBS
  • 9:37 p.m.: No. 9 Kansas State vs. No. 5 Kentucky, CBS

LOS ANGELES: Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, Dan Bonner, Dana Jacobson

  • 7:37 p.m.: No. 7 Texas A&M vs. No. 3 Michigan, TBS
  • 10:07 p.m.: No. 9 Florida State vs. No. 4 Gonzaga, TBS


OMAHA: Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson

  • 7:07 p.m.: No. 5 Clemson vs. No. 1 Kansas, CBS
  • 9:37: No. 11 Syracuse vs. No. 2 Duke, CBS

BOSTON: Ian Eagle, Jim Spanarkel, Allie LaForce

  • 7:27 p.m.: No. 5 West Virginia vs. No. 1 Villanova, TBS
  • 9:57 p.m.: No. 3 Texas Tech vs. No. 2 Purdue, TBS

No. 1 goes down! No. 9 Florida State topples Xavier

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For the first time since 2004, two No. 1 seeds have been knocked out of the NCAA tournament before the first weekend has come to a close.

On Sunday, No. 9-seed Florida State erased a 12-point deficit in the final 10 minutes and a seven-point deficit in the final five minutes, closing the game on an 18-4 run as they toppled No. 1-seed Xavier, 75-70, to advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2011.

This upset came on the heels of No. 1-seed Virginia becoming the first top seed in tournament history to lose to a No. 16 seed when they fell at the hands of UMBC on Friday night. If that isn’t consolation for Xavier fans, maybe this will be: The Musketeers aren’t the only top five team from the Queen City to blow a lead on Sunday. No. 2-seed Cincinnati was dropped by No. 7-seed Nevada, who erased a 22-point lead in the final 11:43 to land the second-biggest comeback in NCAA tournament history.

With that, Florida State is on to the second weekend of the tournament. Braian Angola led the way for the Seminoles, scoring 16 points to lead five players in double-figures. It really is a fairly remarkable feat that Leonard Hamilton was able to get this team this far in the dance, but the story here is not the Seminoles.

It is Xavier.

And oh boy, do we have a lot to get to.

Let’s start with this: J.P. Macura was robbed. He picked up three fouls in the second half that were all questionable-at-best calls. The first one was a block from behind and a fast break layup. He pinned the ball on the backboard cleanly, but he drilled the shooter with his chest hard enough that getting a whistle wasn’t the worst thing in the world.

A couple minutes later, Macura cleanly picked the pocket of a Florida State’s Mfiondu Kabengele but was whistled for his fourth foul, which sent him to the bench with 8:55 left in the game and the Musketeers ahead 59-48. He came back in the game after a Florida State run cut the lead to two points, but he fouled out of the game on a questionable charge call with just over two minutes left.

Florida State outscored Xavier 27-11 after Macura’s fourth foul. It’s safe to say that those whistles changed this game.

Then there’s Trevon Bluiett. Xavier’s all-american was a non-entity on Sunday night. He finished with just eight points on 2-for-8 shooting, and while credit should be given to Florida State for the defense that they played on him, Bluiett needs to shoulder the blame as well. Mack, too. On the final possession of the game, with the Musketeers down three and just 21 seconds on the clock, Bluiett didn’t touch the ball before Kerem Kanter airballed a three with seven seconds left. On the possession prior to that, he fell down in the lane trying to score the go-ahead bucket.

It certainly wasn’t the most impressive finish that we’ve seen to a basketball game.

But that isn’t the biggest storyline coming out of this game.

Chris Mack is.

More specifically, where Chris Mack will be coaching next season is.

Mack has been at Xavier since 2004. He’s been the head coach of the Musketeers since 2009. He’s also the guy that Louisville has targeted to be their next head coach, sources told NBC Sports. Mack has been pursued by bigger programs before — he was linked and/or pursued for every big coaching hire made in the last two years, from Georgetown to Indiana to Ohio State — but Louisville may just be the job that he would consider leaving Xavier for.

Mack is a native of Cincinnati. He went to high school in Cincinnati. He graduated from Xavier. He started his coaching career for a girls JV high school team in Cincinnati. He’s Cincinnati through and through, and that would have made it hard to leave Xavier before they moved to the Big East.

But his wife is from Louisville. And the Louisville program, while mired in scandal now, is one of the ten best jobs in America. It might be top five, depending on who you ask. Rick Pitino made triple the salary that Mack is making with an ACC budget and ACC pedigree as one of the flagship basketball programs for Adidas.

Throw in the fact that this is coming at a time when Mack will be losing his two best players to graduation, and the dots connect.

We should get an answer sooner rather than later.

Until then, Xavier fans will be left to stew over a bitter end to a season that had so much promise.

If this is it for Chris Mack with the Musketeers, it sure wasn’t a storybook ending.

No. 9 Kansas State wins ugly game over upset-minded No. 16 UMBC

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Kansas State held off another feisty performance from No. 16 seed UMBC as the No. 9 seed Wildcats won an ugly 50-43 game on Sunday night in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

America was rooting for the Retrievers, the first No. 16 seed to ever beat a No. 1 seed in the men’s NCAA tournament, after UMBC shocked America with a blowout win over Virginia on Friday night. Kansas State also gave UMBC ample opportunities to secure another upset — turning the ball over 18 times and shooting 1-for-12 from three-point range.

But after putting up 74 points against the nation’s best defense two nights ago, the Retrievers couldn’t get a shot to go in the second round.  Defense is ultimately what is taking Bruce Weber’s team to the second weekend.  UMBC shot 28 percent (14-for-47) from the field and 27 percent (6-for-22) from three-point range as they struggled to generate offense against a strong Kansas State defense.

The Wildcats (24-11) were also ugly on offense as they only shot 40 percent (18-for-44) from the field and had only two double-figure scorers — led by Barry Brown’s 18 points. Kansas State couldn’t buy a bucket from the perimeter. They had a ton of unforced errors.

It wasn’t pretty, but the only thing that matters is that Kansas State advanced to the Sweet 16 in the South Regional despite not playing particularly well. Leading by only three points with under two minutes left, the Wildcats are lucky that the Retrievers didn’t get hot from the perimeter to steal another win.

Kansas State moves on to play No. 5 seed Kentucky in Atlanta in the Sweet 16 on Thursday. The matchup of Wildcats will almost assuredly have a heavy Kentucky lean in the crowd, with many in Big Blue Nation already referring to the host city as Catlanta.

But the South Regional is wide open since all four top seeds have already been eliminated. A young Kentucky team has also been inconsistent at times during the season. It would be silly to count out Kansas State since this team has defended at a pretty high level during this tournament.

Kansas State might have earned the victory and advanced, but America fell in love with UMBC over the last few days. The magical run of the Retrievers was the reason everybody tuned in to see this game.

The program became a national story after the team’s shocking blowout win on Friday night. The Retrievers won over America with a fun underdog team and an aggressive social media presence.  It might not sink in how monumental UMBC’s win over Virginia was until we look back at it many years later.

Since taking the nation by storm as a No. 15 seed advancing to the Sweet 16 in 2013, Florida Gulf Coast has become a respected mid-major program that regularly competes for conference titles and NCAA tournament appearances. The program’s recruiting reach has also increased as the Eagles are bringing in better talent.

The school’s surprise run also had huge financial implications for the school and athletics department. According to a report from the Baltimore Sun, annual donations at FGCU went from an average of $15 million per year to $27 million per year after the Sweet 16 run. Applications for out-of-state students increased by 80 percent. The school was also able to sell gear while making a push for more season ticket holders and consistent revenue.

Regardless of Sunday’s outcome, UMBC is now a nationally-known program thanks to one special win. UMBC’s weekend perfectly encapsulates why the NCAA tournament is such a big deal for the one-bid leagues who usually get slaughtered by the bluebloods in the opening round.

The Retrievers might not have picked up a catchy original nickname like “Dunk City.” But the letters “U-M-B-C” will likely forever be synonymous with massive upsets and unlikely underdog stories. We could very well see books and documentaries get produced off of this run.

It’ll be fascinating to track the school, and the men’s basketball program, over the next several seasons to see how all of this will benefit the school. Capitalizing on this hot stretch is going to be a key for UMBC’s sustained growth.

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County could see an uptick in enrollment applications and donations to its school. All because of an orange bouncing ball.