34-0 Wichita State still has plenty to prove
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ST. LOUIS - Wichita State's 34-0 record is tied with the 1991 UNLV team as the best start in NCAA history, which only was good enough for the No. 2 ranking in the polls and a grudging No. 1 seed in the Midwest Regional from the selection committee. It's pretty clear the folks who design the 68-team bracket might have been just as happy to make the Shockers a ninth seed, as they did a year ago.
That team wasn't eliminated until the national semifinals in a tough battle with eventual champion Louisville. But since the Missouri Valley champion Shockers met only three NCAA Tournament teams this season, none since December, the selection committee turned the Midwest Regional into a veritable minefield.
Assuming Wichita State gets past upstart Cal Poly (14-19) Friday, the Shockers will get either preseason No. 1 Kentucky or in-state rival Kansas State next. They could end up playing Louisville in a Sweet 16 rematch of their Final Four game. In the Elite Eight, they could meet Michigan, national runner-up a year ago, or Duke.
Asked Thursday for his thoughts on the committee's decision to load one region, Wichita coach Gregg Marshall smiled and said, "Are you wanting me to say that's unfair?''
When the laughter died, he added, "Obviously, it's a great region that's stacked. But I didn't think about it. I didn't talk to my team about it . . . You don't look that far in advance. You just take care of the business in front of you.
"Eat an elephant one bite at a time.''
Wichita State returns four key players from last year, including forward Cleanthony Early of Middletown, N.Y., and a great three-guard backcourt of Ron Baker, Tekele Cotton and Fred Van Vleet. Last season's remarkable run convinced them they're not biting off more than they can chew this time around.
"What we have been doing this year is pretty special,'' Anthony said. "If we continue to make noise . . . that just continues to put us on a path to greatness.
"There's obviously still people who underestimate what we can do compared to certain competition. I'm pretty confident in these guys and in myself that we will be successful.''
The Shockers are on familiar ground at Scottrade Center. They won the MVC Tournament here and are staying at the same hotel, using the same meeting room, eating the same breakfast. "It's kind of like 'Groundhog Day,' '' Marshall said.
One big difference from a year ago is they aren't going to catch any opponents by surprise. But Van Vleet said, "We have the same mindset. It is still us against the world, and we are still hungry, still being the hunters and not the hunted.
"The way we played last year throughout the tournament, there was no doubt or room for question about how good we were. We were pretty dominant in that run, so it gave us a lot of confidence.''
The selection committee wasn't impressed.