Wichita State is no longer living up to its nickname. The team that has lost just one game in 2012 isn’t exactly shocking anyone anymore, not after spanking Missouri Valley leader Creighton in Omaha and then turning a BracketBuster game against Davidson into a laugher.
Now 24-4 and ranked 19th, the Shockers have the look of that team, the one everyone suddenly is loving as a potential NCAA tournament sleeper.
Which means only one thing: The bandwagon is parked outside.
Wichita State always has had a strong and steady fan base but now nouveau fans are asking to board.
We jumped on with two feet this week, along with various national radio shows that were calling for a few minutes of Gregg Marshall’s time, to catch up with the Shockers’ coach.
What has fueled your team this season?
Gregg Marshall: Last season, they were really disappointed they didn’t make the NCAA tournament. A couple of times, they had games slip through their fingers and this year, this group was determined not to let that happen.
These guys are tremendously focused and tough, physically and mentally tough. They have a lot of pride. They know how close they were to the NCAA tournament last year and I think they’re a little chapped.
A lot of times teams who fail to make the NCAA tournament don’t play well in the NIT. Why were the Shockers able to win it and use it as a launch pad for this season?
GM: A few years ago, we were so upset when we lost in the Missouri Valley finals to Northern Iowa and did not get a bid, we went to the NIT and lost in the first round.
Last year, I went to the players and said, "Look, if we’re not going to approach this like we want to win it, I’m not accepting the bid. You guys tell me." They had a closed-door meeting to decide and I honestly didn’t know which way it would go. That group re-dedicated themselves and it carried over into this season.
But I will say, if we found ourselves in a situation where we had to go back to the NIT and try to win it again, that would be a huge disappointment. These guys want the NCAA tournament. This is our first recruiting class. They hitched their wagons to us and they haven’t been to the tournament.
Now that the word is out, so to speak, how do you keep your guys focused?
GM: We came back from that Creighton game and I told them to not only make sure they were on time for their classes on Monday, but to go early. I told them that everyone is going to be watching you, to see how you handle this, to see if you’re letting it go to your head. They want to make sure it doesn’t trip you up in terms of your character, but this is such a good group.
They’re fine. I just need to stay out of their way and not mess them up.
Does your team have bigger ambitions than say, a traditional mid-major going into the NCAA tournament?
GM: I’m not a mid-major/low-major guy. When I was at Winthrop, they said we were a mid-major. What was mid about us? We had to rub two nickels together to get a spark.
Here, we’re a high-major. We average 10,000 fans a game. I make over a $1 million a year. We fly on private planes? What’s mid-major about us?
We just don’t have a BCS football team.
So that said, how badly would your guys like to turn some heads in the NCAA tournament and be that "Cinderella" team?
GM: No doubt our guys have a chip on their shoulder. They’d love to get a piece of some of those quote-unqoute high-major programs. If you don’t bar the door on us, you better be careful.