by Sean Ceglinsky / @seanceglinsky
Keep it real now, on the bracket you filled out for the NCAA Tournament, how many of you actually had the Wichita State Shockers advancing to the Final Four? Call me curious about whether or not college basketball fans, both avid and recreational alike, thought a No. 9 seed could get the job done.
Show of hands, please. Raise one them if you predicted Cinderella would make a prolonged postseason run in March Madness. Come on, throw it up, doesn’t matter if it’s with your right or left. Be proud that you got things correct for once during the Big Dance. Let’s see five fingers or a thumb, anything.
No hands in the air? It’s not surprising, to be honest. Figured as much, in fact.
Their name, Shockers, says it all. And they did just that Saturday, shocking the Ohio State Buckeyes in a 70-66 victory over the No. 2 seed West Regional finals at Staples Center in Los Angeles. They essentially shocked the whole hoops world, and as a result, destroyed brackets from all over the country.
“I don’t think we’re Cinderella at all,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said. “Cinderellas usually are done by this stage. If you get to this point, I think you can win the whole thing.”
The Shockers (30-8 overall record) have been in this position before. It’s been a while, however. They are making an appearance in the tournament semifinals for the first time since 1965.
No. 8 Pittsburgh and No. 1 Gonzaga posed as threats along the way to Wichita State this time around. So did No. 13 La Salle. Each team was no match for this apparent program of destiny.
“I feel like we’ve got the same potential as those big-name guys, regardless if they know who we are or not,” Wichita State junior Cleanthony Early said. “It’s crazy. I still can’t believe we’re here. Last year, we watched. You try to expect it, but you expect a lot of things that don’t happen. This happened.”
In terms of being the biggest underdog to ever reach the Final Four since seeding began in back 1979, Wichita State does not own the distinction. The program is up there though, with the likes of counterparts No. 11 VCU in 2011, No. 11 George Mason in 2006, No. 11 LSU in 1986 and No. 9 Penn in 1979.
Next stop: Final Four in Atlanta on April 6. Once there, No.1 Louisville Cardinals looms large. A win at that stage of the game would be the—dare we say—ultimate shocker, for the Shockers.
No. 4 Michigan Wolverines meets No. 4 Syracuse Orange in the other semifinal.
“We might not be better than them 365 days, but 40 minutes is all it takes,” said Shockers senior Malcolm Armstead. “If you’re better for 40 minutes than the other team, that’s all that matters.”
No sense for Wichita State to switch things up now. The strategy has worked out particularly well for Armstead & Co. thus far. For the non-believers, look at your bracket for proof of their success.