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.”

Dominant first half pushes No. 4 Virginia Tech into second round

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East Region No. 4 Virginia Tech earned the program’s first NCAA tournament victory in 12 years Friday night, as it rode a dominant first half to a 66-52 win over No. 13 Saint Louis.

Buzz Williams’ team limited the Billikens to 18 first half points, taking a 22-point lead into the half as a result. The Hokies weren’t at their best offensively in the second half, but the work done in the first half was more than enough as Saint Louis could get no closer than nine points.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker led the way for Virginia Tech with a game-high 20 points to go along with six rebounds and three steals, with Kerry Blackshear adding 15 points and Ahmed Hill ten. The Hokies shot just 41.7 percent from the field, but a 22-for-27 night from the foul line and a 12-point edge in points from the charity stripe made up for that.

Defensively the Hokies were outstanding in the first half, and would limit the Billikens to 37.3 percent shooting from the field and 4-for-23 from three. Travis Ford’s team, which erased halftime deficits in three of its four wins at last week’s Atlantic 10 tournament, outscored Virginia Tech 34-26 in the second half.

Javon Bess, who sparked the second half rally with some big shots, led three SLU players in double figures with 14 points, with D.J. Foreman adding 12 points and Tramaine Isabell Jr. 11.

Friday’s game also marked the return of Virginia Tech point guard Justin Robinson, who had not played since late January due to a foot injury. The senior finished the game with nine points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals, and while he didn’t shoot the ball particularly well (2-for-7 from the field) Robinson’s presence will only help the Hokies as they look to play deep into the tournament.

Next up for Virginia Tech will be No. 12 Liberty, which upset No. 5 Mississippi State in the first game of the evening session in San Jose.

No. 11 Ohio State advances after landing upset of No. 6 Iowa State

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Chris Holtmann has been to five straight NCAA tournaments since he took over as the interim head coach at Butler during the 2014-15 season.

And after his No. 11-seed Ohio State Buckeyes outlasted No. 6-seed Iowa State, Holtmann can say that his streak remains intact: He has still never lost a game in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Kaleb Wesson scored 21 points and grabbed 11 boards, overpowering a smaller Iowa State team in the paint and carrying the Buckeyes back to the second round of the dance for the second straight season with a 62-59 win over the Cyclones. Wesson missed a front end of a one-and-one with 10 seconds left in the game, but Nick Weiler-Babb missed a wide-open three from about 23 feet that would have tied the game.

And with that, the Buckeyes will advance to take on No. 3-seed Houston for the right to play in the Sweet 16.

But the talking point coming out of this game isn’t going to be Ohio State vs. Houston, it’s going to about the future of the Iowa State head coaching position. Avery Johnson is negotiating a buyout with Alabama. Steve Prohm grew up in Georgia and is an Alabama alum. There is more than a little smoke surrounding his potential move to Tuscaloosa, and if that does happen, it opens the door for what was almost unthinkable a couple of months ago: A return to Ames for former Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg.

And that, in turn, has repercussions that will reverberate throughout the college coaching world. Because Hoiberg was fired by the Chicago Bulls earlier and has been heavily linked with a move to Nebraska to replace Tim Miles, who has not been fired or seen his season come to an end.

This will be fascinating to see get put into motion and where these coaches will land.

But what’s clear is that this process couldn’t start until Iowa State’s season came to an end.

Here we are.

No. 9 UCF beats No. 8 VCU, earns first-ever NCAA tournament win

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East Region No. 9 UCF made history Friday night, picking up the program’s first-ever NCAA tournament victory as it beat No. 8 VCU by a 73-58 final score. The reward for the Knights is a shot at top overall seed Duke Sunday night, with head coach Johnny Dawkins facing his mentor for the second time in his coaching career.

UCF grabbed control of Friday’s matchup with a 19-0 run that began in the first half, with VCU going nearly eight minutes without scoring a point. Mike Rhoades’ team rallied in the second half but could get no closer than nine points before the Knights put the game away.

B.J. Taylor led three double-digit scorers with 15 points, and 7-foot-6 center Tacko Fall was the difference-maker in the front court. In addition to scoring 13 points the senior big man also accounted for 18 rebounds and five blocked shots. In addition to the blocks there were shots that Fall altered, and even a couple forced turnovers in which VCU paid the price for making rushed decisions around the basket.

Aubrey Dawkins added 14 points, with Terrell Allen and Frank Bertz scoring nine apiece. With UCF’s win the 9-seeds were 4-0 in first round matchups in this year’s tournament, and three of the wins (UCF, Washington and Oklahoma) were by 15 points or more.

Malik Crowfield led the way for the Atlantic 10 regular season champions with 11 points and De’Riante Jenkins added ten, but VCU shot just 31.1 percent from the field and 6-for-26 from three on the night. UCF used multiple defenses throughout the night, going to a zone when Fall was on the floor and man-to-man when the center was on the bench. The Knights will use a similar formula Sunday in hopes that it will slow down Duke’s talented freshman scorers.

2019 NCAA Tournament: Sunday second round tip times, announcers

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All times Eastern

12:10 p.m.: South No. 10 Iowa vs. No. 2 Tennessee (Columbus; CBS); Brian Anderson/Chris Webber/Allie LaForce

Approx. 2:40 p.m.: Midwest No. 9 Washington vs. No. 1 North Carolina (Columbus; CBS); Anderson/Webber/LaForce

5:15 p.m.: East No. 9 UCF vs. No. 1 Duke (Columbia; CBS); Jim Nantz/Bill Raftery/Grant Hill/Tracy Wolfson

6:10 p.m.: West No. 6 Buffalo vs. No. 3 Texas Tech (Tulsa; TNT); Brad Nessler/Steve Lavin/Jim Jackson/Evan Washburn

7:10 p.m.: East No. 12 Liberty vs. No. 4 Virginia Tech (San Jose; TBS); Spero Dedes/Steve Smith/Len Elmore/Ros Gold-Onwude

Approx.: 7:45 p.m.: South No. 9 Oklahoma vs. No. 1 Virginia (Columbia; truTV); Nantz/Raftery/Hill/Wolfson

Approx. 8:40 p.m.: Midwest No. 11 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Houston (Tulsa; TNT); Nessler/Lavin/Jackson/Washburn

Approx.: 9:40 p.m.: South No. 13 UC Irvine vs. No. 12 Oregon (San Jose; TBS); Dedes/Smith/Elmore/Gold-Onwude

North Carolina shakes off slow start, runs over Iona

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The ACC sent three No. 1 seeds to the NCAA tournament, and all three of them decided that they didn’t need to show up for the first half.

Virginia trailed Gardner-Webb by as many at 14 points before going on to win by 15. Duke trailed North Dakota State deep into the first half before taking a 31-27 lead into the break, but they went on to win by 23 points.

North Carolina completed the trifecta, digging themselves a 38-31 hole and taking a five-point deficit into the break before they finally found their rhythm, running No. 16-seed Iona off the floor, 88-73.

Cam Johnson led the way with 21 points, seven boards and four assists for UNC while Nassir Little chipped in with 19 points on 9-for-13 shooting from the field. As a team, the Tar Heels grabbed 19 offensive boards.

That said, the final box score doesn’t tell the whole story.

North Carolina was bad in the first half. They couldn’t get out in transition. They gave up 10 Iona three-pointers. It was the furthest thing from a quintessential North Carolina performance, the kind of showing that will get the Tar Heels on a plane back to Chapel Hill if they play this way against Washington in the next round.

It should be easier to be ready to play when the Pac-12 champs are on the other end of the floor.