NCAA Final Four, why is Wichita State the team to beat
Is Wichita State the team to beat? Nice challenge, someone would say, but here we are going to talk about four reasons because of which Coach Marshall’s team could win the national championship.
The Shockers have had the hardest schedule in the NCAA Tournament right to the Final Four. In the second round, Wichita State faced the #8 seed, Pittsburgh, a tough team which managed to beat teams like Georgetown and Syracuse and lost only by a few points against Louisville, Syracuse (another time) and Marquette in the Big East tournament.
Not satisfied by the great opening win, the Shockers signed their tournament’s masterpiece against Gonzaga, #1 seed of the West Regional, in the third round. They played an almost perfect game and, thanks to a huge contribution by the bench, Coach Marshall’s team managed to eliminate Kelly Olynyk and his teammates, who were having a tremendous season with 32 wins and only 2 losses. As a reward for the greatest upset in this NCAA Tournament, in the Sweet Sixteen the Shockers faced the only team with a ranking lower than theirs, La Salle (#13). Even if far from a one-sided game, the match has been easily won by Wichita State, which made another basketball miracle in the Elite Eight. The Shockers beated Ohio State, #2 of the Regional and considered the team which had the best chances to reach the Final Four. The Shockers’ game was almost perfect for 30 minutes and they physically and technically dominated the Buckeyes, which could not complete the comeback in the final minutes of the game.
Or the lack of stars. Indeed, it is the team itself the main strength of the Shockers. No stars, complete offensive freedom which translates to a perfect synergy even on the defensive end. Coach Marshall’s basketball structure is certainly the most democratic (even if Louisville and Syracuse are partly democratic, too) of the four teams which are still competing for the title. The reason is that Wichita State can not rely on a player more skilled than the others. Armstead, Early and Hall are all leaders, but in different matters. It is no overstatement to tell that they perfectly complete each other, also because they are surrounded by role players who can score, like Baker, Cotton (man of the match against Ohio State) and VanVleet. The three players which are slightly better than the others are all leaders in the locker room more than on the floor, because they all are specialists. Armstead can perfectly bring the ball up the floor, Early can shoot from distance very well and Hall can dominate the paint. This completeness allowed Wichita State to play at the level of any other team in the NCAA. They know they won’t have to worry about the opposing point guard (ask Aaron Craft for further information), they know they can score from distance and they know that, if a guard beats them with a dribble, they have the best shot blocker of the tournament in the paint (with all respect to Jeff Withey of Kansas). These beliefs are very important and they can make you believe you are stronger even than teams as Gonzaga and Ohio State.
Well, Gregg Marshall was little known until last February. In 2011/12 he participated for the first time in the NCAA Tournament with Wichita State after his first appearance with Winthrop, small college of the Big South Conference. You would not want to tell him it was a miracle that his team reached the Final Four, if you don’t want him to get angry, though. “We thought we could do it even last year, but unfortunately we didn’t managed to do it”, he told just after the Elite Eight game to American TVs, proving to believe a lot in his work and in his team. Indeed, this is one of the most important skills a coach should have. And he will soon have the chance to coach one of the best Division I teams, we think. Before the game against Ohio State, he told his guys that they did not have to play a perfect game, but he told them that they needed only “a very, very good game” to win. This is a blatant demonstration of how, in his opinion, Wichita State is at the level of Gonzaga or Ohio State. This confidence was transmitted to the team and it probably was the main reason why Gonzaga State completely deserved this Final Four apperance. Aside from a few minutes against Ohio State, the Shockers always dominated their opponents, whoever they were. If Coach Marshall makes the last miracle, you should not be surprised to see him leading one of the best programs in the nation in the next years.
Wichita State will face probably the best team of the remaining four. It is their story and their fate, to face the best teams in the nations. Louisville is indeed the only #1 seed of the tournament to have reached the Final Four and the Cardinals can not only count on a great team and a great coach, but on Ware’s injury, which made the team still more motivated than before. They absolutely want to win, also because they want to celebrate with the unlucky teammate who suffered that gruesome injury in the Elite Eight. However, after such a run, the Shockers have earned a lot of respect and will be able to compete against a team like Louisville without too much reverence. Maybe it is a good thing to face probably the best team right away. Beating the favourites for the title would give still more energy to the rocket which took off from Salt Lake City on March, 21st, and which answers to the name of Wichita State.