Red-hot Wichita State now has long wait for NCAA Tournament
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) Wichita State hasn't lost since mid-January, rolling through the Missouri Valley Tournament and routing Illinois State in the finals to ensure its spot in next week's NCAA Tournament.
Now, the big question is whether a long wait will give the No. 20 Shockers time to cool off.
The Valley has chosen for years to hold its conference championship game a week before the power-five leagues, giving it the national television spotlight. The trade-off for increased visibility is that schools that make the dance often have at least 11 days before they play again.
Nearly two weeks with nothing to do but practice.
''It kind of allows us to get off our feet a little bit, but also work on ourselves and not have to be sleepless nights,'' Shockers forward Rashard Kelly said, choosing to put a positive spin on it.
At least the Shockers (30-4) took any drama out of their long wait. They ran roughshod over the Redbirds in the Valley title game, punching their ticket for the sixth straight year. The past two years they've had to wait to learn their at-large fate after losing in the league tourney, even though they assumed all along they had done enough to warrant a spot in the field.
Even when they made it, the selection committee hardly did them any favors.
They were a seventh seed a couple years ago, drawing a tough game against Indiana in their NCAA opener. They followed that win by knocking off Kansas in one of the most satisfying wins of coach Gregg Marshall's career, only to lose to Notre Dame in the Sweet 16.
Last year, they were stuck in an opening-round game as a No. 11 seed. They proved their worth by routing Vanderbilt, then knocked off Arizona before losing to Miami in their third game in five days.
The way Wichita State has played the past eight weeks should mean an easier road this time.
''Yeah, last year we had to stress a little bit about getting into the tournament,'' Frankamp said, ''hoping that we would. It's different this year, obviously, since we got the championship.''
The Shockers last tasted defeat at Illinois State on Jan. 14, a game that proved to be a turning point for the team. It was after that game that Marshall made the decision to shift Landry Shamet to the point and Frankamp to shooting guard, a subtle move but one that not only ignited those two guards but also seemed to put a charge into the rest of the team.
The same bunch that lost close games to Louisville and Michigan State early in the year began to rout everybody they faced, scoring at will while simultaneously playing lock-down defense.
They avenged that loss to the Redbirds twice over, beating them 86-45 in Wichita and 70-50 at the Valley tournament, and have steadily climbed up the AP poll.
Not surprisingly, that torrid stretch has brought comparisons to other recent Wichita State teams, including the Final Four group of 2013 and the 2014 team that went unbeaten in the regular season.
''This team's comparable, it really is,'' Marshall said. ''We've got so many weapons defensively. We play hard, try to play smart. My coaching staff does a great job. We've got some really, really bright minds breaking down film and developing game plans. We're very deep. We're very deep, pretty big, athletic, skilled and talented. It's a good formula.''
One that makes the Shockers one of the teams nobody wants to face in March.
Marshall has lamented the way Wichita State has been seeded over the years, including the year it earned a No. 1 seed. The Shockers were ''rewarded'' by getting eighth-seeded Kentucky in the round of 32, a team full of NBA prospects that advanced to the national title game.
Yet this year's team doesn't seem to care where it is seeded or who it plays, exuding a confidence that may have been missing the past couple years. And that makes the Shockers even more dangerous.
''It don't matter who we play. It's just a great feeling to know we're in the tournament the whole week,'' the Shockers' Markis McDuffie said. ''It don't matter who we play in the bracket. It's about us.''
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