Monday, October 7, 2013
You Gotta See This: Missouri Valley
By Eamonn Brennan
Gregg Marshall is in position to stay at Wichita State for a long time.
It's college basketball preview season, and you know what that means: tons of preseason info to get you primed for 2013-14. But what do you really need to know? Each day for the next month, we'll highlight the most important, interesting or just plain amusing thing each conference has to offer this season -- from great teams to thrilling players to wild fans and anything in between. Up next: Wichita State's moment in the sun.
In March, after Wichita State's Sweet 16 win over La Salle, one more stop en route to the 2013 Final Four, Gregg Marshall sat in a chair deep inside the Staples Center, holding court with a handful of reporters. When one told him he had to be a leading candidate for the recently vacated job at UCLA, Marshall came dangerously close to scoffing. Then he explained.
"I'm already making seven figures," Marshall said to the group. "You can eat a lot of steak and hamburger and pizza for what we're making at Wichita State . I live on the golf course. We have a beautiful backyard. My wife has four dogs. She gardens. We fly around on private planes to Napa and back to South Carolina. We have a good life, man."
There were a lot of implications rolled up into that quote. It said a lot about the current state of college basketball coaching, about why Brad Stevens and Shaka Smart didn't leave for the jobs everyone expected them to take (no one expected the Boston Celtics hire). But it also said a lot about Wichita State -- not just the team Marshall has built, but the community around it.
Wichita State fans are wondering what took the rest of the country so long.
Sure, the Shockers played in the Missouri Valley Conference, a non-power league unencumbered by Division I football, but the Shockers are hardly your traditional mid-major. The Charles Koch Arena is a 10,000-seat arena typically packed to the rafters for Shockers basketball, and the fans are, well, loud. Really loud. That level of steady local support has allowed the Wichita State administration to splurge here and there -- to give Marshall access to charter jets for recruiting, for example. There are few perks elite programs can boast that Wichita State doesn't have.
Meanwhile, with Creighton and All-American forward Doug McDermott beginning a new season in the Big East, Wichita State and its host of players (Cleanthony Early most notable among them) returning from last year's run to the Georgia Dome (and near-upset of No. 1 Louisville once there) get to take the proverbial center stage. What's funny is that Marshall's best team -- the 27-6, No. 5-seeded, five-senior-starters-led 2011-12 Shockers -- were almost certainly the better team, better even than last year's group. Which only highlights the fact that very little has changed in Wichita. It's just that now, everyone has noticed.