College Basketball Nation: Gregg Marshall

Playing angry the Marshall way

June, 25, 2014
Editor’s note: During the next five weeks, we will reveal the top 50 coaches in college basketball, as decided by our ESPN Forecast panel. Today we unveil No. 8: Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall. On Thursday, we release No. 7.

A Final Four appearance in 2013 didn’t do it. Neither will an undefeated regular season and No. 1 seed in 2014.

Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall will continue to implore his team to “play angry” simply because he’s always coached that way.

“We had this thing before play angry,” Tyson Waterman said. “It was called the Marshall Law.”

Back in 1998, Waterman played point guard on Marshall’s first team at Winthrop. Prior to Marshall’s arrival at the Rock Hill, South Carolina, school, the Eagles had never won a Big South Conference title in its 13 years of existence.

The program was a sure win for just about every league opponent on its schedule. Marshall tapped into that slight on a regular basis.

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AP Photo/Jeff RobersonGregg Marshall coaches with a chip on his shoulder and recruits players with that same mentality.
“His biggest thing was nobody respects you, he made you feel like you’re not respected no matter what,” Waterman said. “We won [12] straight and he was still like 'nobody respects you.' He’ll find a stat that makes you keep from being complacent. He’ll find a reason to make you think that you’re not doing nothing.”

Waterman, who was just hired this month as an assistant coach at Southeastern Louisiana, recalled when he found himself on the wrong side of Marshall sending a message. Waterman had just dropped 22 points against Maryland’s Steve Blake in an overtime loss and was feeling high on himself. So much so that he was late for a practice before Winthrop played at Campbell.

Marshall sat Waterman out of the starting lineup because of it. And when his point guard sulked his way through a poor first-half performance, Marshall sat him the rest of the game.

“That’s when I learned you have to play the right way, the Marshall way, or other than that I wasn’t going to play,” Waterman said. “It was that simple.”

Waterman said Marshall hasn’t changed much since then. He’s still taking a roster largely devoid of blue-chip players. He reminds them that nobody rated them as four- and five-star players. And he’s turned the Shockers into a program that nobody wants to play.

“These are guys that a lot of people wouldn’t take, and that’s who he takes,” Waterman said. “He doesn’t care about height, he doesn’t care about size. He loves length, but at the same time he’ll take you just if you have ability and a hard work ethic. That’s what he likes, guys that are going to come to work.”

And he wants players that work like he works. Waterman said Marshall’s preparation is what sets him apart from others. He’s obsessive over details and treats every opponent the same.

That’s how Wichita State stayed unbeaten even as the pressure to keep its winning streak going kept mounting.

“He’s going to prepare for you just like you’re Kentucky,” Waterman said. “And he’s going to expect you to play with the level of effort just like it’s Kentucky. If not, you’re going to sit. Trust me I know.”

Kentucky is a big reason why Waterman feels like Marshall will have the Shockers motivated and ready from the start next season. Despite finishing the regular season undefeated for the first time since St. Joseph’s in 2004, Wichita State was given a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament in arguably the toughest region.

The Wildcats, who were ranked preseason No. 1 and advanced to the title game, received a No. 8 seed and quickly proved that they were underseeded, ending the Shockers' season in the third round. That won’t soon be forgotten by Marshall.

“I felt like they got dealt a bad hand last year and I feel like it was on purpose,” said Waterman, who believes it just enough of a slight that Marshall will use it to keep his team on edge.

“He’s not going to be content until he gets a national championship with Wichita State.”
Editor’s note: Some coaches’ names always seem to come up for other jobs. But what would it take for them to actually leave? This week, we’ll look at the names most often mentioned. Today, we look at Wichita State's Gregg Marshall.

There was a time, and it wasn't too long ago, when the head coach at a program like Wichita State could be counted on to jump to a new job at the first possible opportunity. That's just how things worked. There were rules to the coaching climb, steps to be followed, with each successful tenure or late-season tournament run leading to a slightly bigger job, with a slightly bigger budget, until that long-sought high-major offer finally came. When it did, you took it.

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Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesGregg Marshall has built Wichita State into a consistent winner.
The comparison need not be indirect. In 2007, after seven increasingly successful seasons in the Missouri Valley Conference, Wichita State coach Mark Turgeon leapt at a chance to join a high-major conference. In his case, it was the Big 12, and all it took to pry him away from Wichita was … wait for it … Texas A&M. No one raised an eyebrow.

Seven years later, the only interesting thing about imagining Turgeon's successor receiving an offer from Texas A&M would be the wry, get-outta-here expression it would surely prompt.

Last year, Marshall took the Shockers to the Final Four, where they nearly upset eventual champion Louisville. For an encore, his team spent all of 2013-14 without losing a single game in the regular season or the MVC tournament; it took eventual NCAA runner-up Kentucky (in a for-the-ages showdown in the round of 32) to finally put one loss in Wichita State's column. Marshall has gradually built the Shockers into a more interesting, better-financed and more consistent program than all but 15 or 20 of the nation's college basketball programs. That the idea of him leaving for Texas A&M seems so silly (no offense, Aggies, but it is silly) is a testament to how much things have changed -- both in Wichita and the sport writ large.

On Monday, in her excellent introduction to this series, Marshall told Dana O'Neil his philosophy on staying at Wichita State. It's one John Calipari echoed years before the two staged March's remarkable matchup, when the former was still at Winthrop and the latter at Memphis:

"Cal said, 'Effectively, what you've done is made Winthrop your next job,'" Marshall said. "That's so true. He did the same thing at UMass and at Memphis. Instead of making that intermediate step -- there were 15 to 20 jobs I could have taken while I was at Winthrop -- at the end of each year, I'd sit down and say, 'This is what we need to do to make Winthrop better.' That's what I'm doing now at Wichita State."

That's not just about winning and losing. It's not even really about recruiting. It's about consistently building all facets of a program: attendance, player recognition, booster support, etc. It's about making progress so obvious, and yourself so indispensable, that the combination becomes something that transcends conference affiliation. Salary and perks that used to be available only at the high-major football-school level are available to coaches who can pull it off outside that structure now. Marshall is the latest, most prominent example, and neither he nor the program he built is going anywhere anytime soon.

What would it take?

Which is not to say folks haven't tried. Marshall -- like Shaka Smart (and Brad Stevens, pre-Boston Celtics) -- has been on the receiving end of who-knows-how-many entreaties in the last three years, ranging widely in seriousness and prestige. Most notably, UCLA at least considered the idea last spring. Most recently, Missouri reportedly did all but re-enact the Big State scene from "He Got Game" in its attempts to lure Marshall to Columbia. None of the interest has been reciprocated, because Marshall has a better situation -- salary, bonuses, sellout crowds, recruiting budget, booster backing and almost total institutional deference -- already.

Does that mean Marshall will retire at Wichita State? Maybe not. It took longer than it might have for others, but he did eventually leave Winthrop. Marshall is, after all, a Division I basketball coach, which means he's an incredibly competitive human being in constant search for more substantial challenges. It would take far more than Texas A&M to lure him away. It would take a program with both a long-established foundation for success and a willingness to give Marshall sole ownership of the operative keys. Oh, and a ton of cash. That too.

In their interview this week, Dana went ahead and asked Marshall the very question this series poses. What would it take for him to leave?

"I don’t know," Marshall told this week. "But I’m very happy here. It would take something really big."

Possibilities: Something really big.

3-point shot: Missouri goes in-state

April, 29, 2014

In today's 3-point shot, Andy Katz reports on how Missouri selected Kim Anderson as coach, how Florida was affected by the early-entry deadline and UNLV's rugged schedule in 2014-15.

ST. LOUIS -- It couldn’t really happen.

The billing for Kentucky and Wichita State on Sunday called for a battle of talent versus experience, potential versus accomplishment, the perennial front-runner that underachieved versus the underdog on a magical ride.

They were on a collision course here, primed to meet in a moment that tested wills on both sides: a classic confrontation with all the storylines in place.

It wouldn’t happen, right?

It happened.

Kentucky outlasted No. 1 seed Wichita State 78-76 in a heavyweight rumble fit for a later round of the NCAA tournament. UK ended the Shockers’ season, perfect at 35-0 until Sunday, by playing like it hadn’t played all year.

With a team of future pros, the Wildcats -- attacked all season, according to coach John Calipari, bludgeoned even -- finally clicked.

And still, the Shockers came up just one shot short as Fred VanVleet’s 3-pointer from the top of the key clanked the rim and bounced away at the Scottrade Center, leaving a crowd of 19,676 to ponder what it had seen.

“You all understand,” Calipari said, “this was an Elite Eight game. The winner of this should have gone to the Final Four.”

It was a round-of-32 gem, one of those unforgettable, back-and-forth tournament games that may mark a coming-of-age moment for Calipari’s young group, which advances to the Sweet 16 in Indianapolis this week to face nemesis Louisville.

“We don’t worry about that,” Kentucky forward Willie Cauley-Stein said. “I’m just really trying to enjoy the moment right now.”

What’s that, a Kentucky player refusing to look at the next game, just days away, against Louisville?

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Dilip Vishwanat/Getty ImagesKentucky's Aaron Harrison looked to pass against pressure from Wichita State's Fred VanVleet.
The UK fans ought to try that. Well, on Sunday night they could, because this victory over Wichita State was something to savor.

“A lot of people were down on us all year,” senior guard Jarrod Polson said. “We’re just trying to make this run and prove everybody wrong.”

The Wildcats’ run, which started as the preseason No. 1, continues. For Wichita State, it ends prematurely. The Shockers got a raw deal, matched against the size and athletic prowess of Kentucky at this stage. At every position, the Wildcats were bigger, starting with twin guards freshmen Andrew and Aaron Harrison.

Wichita State, of course, did not back down. Its sophomore backcourt duo of VanVleet and Ron Baker matched the Harrisons, big moment for big moment.

“You go through some humps in your life, kind of like this one,” Baker said. “It’s tough to see us go out like this. We all wanted more, and at the end of the day, you know, somebody’s got to go home.

“I thought we had a great year, and it’s just unfortunate we won’t be back playing next week.”

In the hallway outside the Wichita State locker room, officials from the Missouri Valley Conference -- the Shockers’ league and host to this event -- wore long faces. One breathed a deep sigh of apparent regret as the doors opened to unveil the Wichita State players, silent and still on the benches inside.

Gregg Marshall had left. The time between coach and players after the game, he said, turned emotional. It was raw. But now, they stared ahead with blank looks. A few of the Shockers toyed with their cell phones. Others tried to answer questions.

But really, they had no answers.

“They made plays,” senior forward Chadrack Lufile said. “They capitalized.”

Wichita State made plays, too. Plenty of them, primarily by Baker and senior Cleanthony Early, who arguably outplayed all of the Kentucky hotshots -- even freshman Julius Randle, a physical force who took over the action for a few minutes early in the second half.

Early, an elite pro prospect himself, scored 31 points on an array of perimeter shots and slicing moves to the rim. His dunk in transition over the 7-foot Cauley-Stein late in the first half left all in attendance to wonder which of these teams, in fact, was stacked with talent.

Baker was just as good at times. When Kentucky, which trailed by six at halftime, went ahead for the first time in the second half at 41-40, Baker rushed down the floor to score and draw a foul. After another Kentucky bucket to tie it at 43, Baker drilled a 3.

Seemingly, the Shockers would not be denied. Until, at the end, the final shot sailed off target.

“It’s hard,” Marshall said, “the finality of it. We won’t be able to coach these seniors anymore. But it’s been such a fun, enjoyable season, magical season. I mean, it’s literally been a magic carpet ride. And to have it end is going to be something that we have to get used to.

“But I still think, in retrospect, we will look back and just be so proud.”

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Scott Rovak/USA TODAY SportsThe Wildcats celebrated reaching the Sweet 16 and a date against Louisville.
Kentucky, meanwhile, looks ahead. Louisville, which it beat back in December, awaits after a crazy week back home. If the Wildcats survive, perhaps they get Michigan, who lost to Louisville last year in the national title game.

Calipari, nursing a sore hip of late, said he was “whistling and skipping” in the hallway outside the UK locker room, though not because he felt relieved.

“If wins are relief,” he said, “it’s time for me to retire. This was great joy in seeing a group of young men come together and start figuring this out. It took longer than I’d hoped.”

The coach said he failed to define roles adequately among the young Wildcats early in the season. Now, they’re starting to lose themselves within the team. They’re growing as a unit, not lurching forward and backward as individuals. It was evident on the court against Wichita State.

“I just wish we had another month of the season,” Calipari said, “because we’re getting better every day.”

He won’t get a month, but Calipari could get two weeks. It’s a scary thought for the remaining teams in the tournament, because Kentucky, as a No. 8 seed at not even close to its best, takes a backseat to no opponent.

Still, just how close were the Wildcats to a sour finish on Sunday?

Consider this: Andrew Harrison, who runs the point among the 6-foot-6 twins, hurt his right elbow in a collision with Kansas State’s Wesley Iwundu on Friday. Calipari said on Saturday that the Wildcats were ready to play without Harrison.

Trainer Chris Simmons spent the night before this game in Harrison’s hotel room, keeping ice on the injured elbow as Harrison slept.

Harrison played well. He made 6-of-9 from the field and scored a team-high 20 points.

Score one for the trainer.

“Without him, obviously you know now, it would have been a different game,” Calipari said. “We couldn’t have won the game.”

That Wichita State had one shot to win, with three seconds on the clock and the ball past half court, speaks to the Shockers’ resolve and their own level of play.

“That’s how good they are,” Calipari said, “and how good we’re playing right now.”

Good enough to make for a classic.
ST. LOUIS -- Wichita State backcourt mates Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton pondered the question together with forward Darius Carter.

As young fans of college basketball, what did you think of Kentucky?

Baker often watched the Wildcats, he said. His dad was a fan.

[+] EnlargeCleanthony Early
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesCleanthony Early and the Shockers, who are 35-0, face a talented Kentucky squad on Sunday in St. Louis.
"When you hear Kentucky," said Baker, who hails from Scott City, Kan., "you think of basketball."

Cotton, from Marietta, Ga., recalls admiring Jodie Meeks, who attended high school in suburban Atlanta and then starred at Kentucky.

"As a fan of basketball," Cotton said, "you’re going to watch Kentucky."

Carter, from Akron, Ohio, grew up an Ohio State fan, though he was "very aware" of the Wildcats.

So were any of you recruited by UK, even so much as receive a form letter?


“No, sir.”

“No. I wasn’t, either.”

And there you have the first layer of irony in the delicious NCAA tournament matchup on Sunday at the Scottrade Center between Wichita State, seeded No. 1 in the Midwest Region and the first team ever to reach 35-0, and eighth-seeded Kentucky, the powerhouse program that began this season with more McDonald’s All-Americans than starting positions and a vision to go 40-0.

The Wildcats are 25-10 and playing better of late, though their performance in shooting 38 percent on Friday in a 56-49 win over Kansas State looked disjointed at times. Additionally, freshman point guard Andrew Harrison is questionable to play against the Shockers because of an elbow injury suffered late in the round of 64 win.

"At this point," Kentucky coach John Calipari said, "I just don’t want my team to make this game bigger than it is."

Imagine that, Calipari concerned that Kentucky -- which won its eighth national title in 2012 -- might make too much of a meeting with Wichita State, the Missouri Valley Conference champion.

Yes, the Shockers made an unexpected run to the Final Four as a No. 9 seed last season before losing to eventual champion Louisville, but shouldn’t it be coach Gregg Marshall’s players who peer across the court on Sunday with a desire to make a statement?

After all, Marshall, too, holds UK history in reverence. He watched Jack Givens score 41 points in the 1978 title-game win over Duke and recalls fondly his trips to Rupp Arena as a coach at Winthrop and Marshall.

Marshall joked that with the help of a constitutional amendment, he could schedule a game in Wichita against Kentucky.

The Wichita State coach said he didn’t attempt to recruit any of Kentucky’s five starting freshmen. Probably no one else on its roster, either.

"I haven’t checked all the way down with the walk-ons," he said.

According to Marshall, Wichita State does not recruit even "the second level down from Kentucky."

A year ago, Marshall said, he couldn’t have identified Julius Randle, the Wildcats’ star power forward out of Dallas who signed with Kentucky over Texas, Kansas and Florida.

"It’s just a whole different level of recruiting," Marshall said. "They do what works well for them, and we try to do what works well for us."

It’s working.

To extend its success against an opponent bigger and likely more athletic at four positions, the margin for Wichita State error grows slimmer than normal. Marshall and his players mentioned in separate interviews the importance of rebounding well against Kentucky.

That's quite a task. The Wildcats ranked fifth in the nation in the regular season, averaging 41.3 rebounds against the nation’s No. 2 schedule. Wichita State was 25th in rebounding with a schedule strength of 111th.

On Friday, UK dominated Kansas State on the glass 40-28. Randle grabbed 15 boards to go with a game-high 19 points.

"I’ve never seen a 19-year-old as big as [him] in my life," said Baker, the Wichita State sophomore of the 6-foot-9, 250-pound Randle.

Even Kansas’ Bill Self, set to coach the second-seeded Jayhawks against No. 10 seed Stanford in the first game Sunday in St. Louis, which tips at 12:15 p.m. ET, recognizes the intrigue of Kentucky-Wichita State.

"It could be very cool," Self said.

"You have Wichita State, who has had the year. Nobody can deny that. They had as good a year [as] college basketball has seen in recent memory. And then you have one of the truest bluebloods. … It should be a fun game."

Just don’t paint the Shockers as an underdog. They don’t feel like the little guys, and the Wildcats know it.

"You know," Kentucky forward Willie Cauley-Stein said, "Wichita State has a bunch of swagger right now."

Cauley-Stein, raised in Spearville, Kan., 150 miles west of Wichita, moved for high school to Olathe, Kan., outside of Kansas City. He said he knew little about Wichita State until its recent run of success.

Quite the contrast to the Shockers and their awareness of big, bold Kentucky.
Ask Russell Wilkins, who runs ticket operations at Wichita State, why he didn't raise ticket prices after the Shockers made the Final Four last season and you'll get an answer you won't believe.

"Because we didn't need to," Wilkins will tell you.

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Peter G. Aiken/USA TODAY SportsWinning, including a Final Four run, has had a positive effect on Wichita State's revenue.
As college sports has become a bigger and bigger business, fans are used to programs cashing in just like the professional ones. Have a big year, send a bigger invoice. Except the Shockers haven't sought to make money off every possible avenue.

"Once we balanced our budget, we didn't need to gouge our fans," Wilkins said. "We're a need-based organization using the nonprofit model."

Compared to their Missouri Valley Conference counterparts, Wichita State has the most expensive ticket and donation requirement, which did in fact rise in recent years, but the athletic department has been more conservative than most that have found themselves in this position.

The last time the Shockers raised ticket prices was three seasons ago, when the cost of the most expensive ticket went from $280 apiece to $330. Shocking considering the fact that tickets are typically the way to grow revenue for a program that is already sold out for the season.

"We live in Kansas," said the school's athletic director, Eric Sexton. "Our biggest donors are great business people, and they understand excellence with the highest level of fiscal integrity."

Sexton said roughly 70 percent of the athletic department revenues come from marketplace decisions like advertising, sponsorships and required ticket donations. He said his restraint on testing the maximum dollars he can generate is helped by what he has learned from the people at Koch Industries, the second-largest privately held company in the United States and a company that is based in Wichita.

"They talk about creating value for the customer, and we always try to pay attention that," Sexton said. "Value is based on the product you have relative to the economy."

The economy is really the X-factor in determining how much Wichita State can cash in on the future. Although the team draws interest from all over Kansas, Wichita has been especially hard hit by the decline of the aircraft industry. Boeing, Beechcraft and Cessna, all of which had employees in the city, haven't recovered since the economic downturn began in 2008. A recent report suggests Wichita's economy won't recover to 2008 levels until at least 2018.

That doesn't mean the Final Four run and this year's undefeated season hasn't increased the program's coffers. Although home games were sold out, more people actually showed up this season. You can tell just by looking at the concession revenue, up $40,000 to $130,000 this season. Sponsorship is also on pace to hit a record $2 million, up from $1.4 million just a year ago. So too are donations to the athletic department, which hit a record $4.7 million in 2013.

And winning has increased the frequency of some pleasant surprises. Like the fan who had never been on the program's radar and asked what it would cost to get four of the best season tickets in the house. He had them, $60,000 later.

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Scott Sewell/USA TODAY SportsIf Wichita State has another deep NCAA tournament run, will it be able to afford coach Gregg Marshall?
"We had never spoken to the guy before," said John Brewer, the school's associate athletic director for marketing and strategic communications.

The cheapest season ticket, including the donation for the Shockers basketball games this season, was $437.50, but being considered a significant booster does cost thousands. The 173 donors who got tickets through the team's NCAA tournament allotment in 2014 donated at least $6,000.

Then there's the record licensing royalties that will come this year.

A couple of years ago, Wichita State changed the look of its WuShock mascot for various reasons. Companies embroidering the image complained that it was too complex and took too long, thus reducing margins. The school complained that it looked sloppy. So they made it simpler, which ushered WuShock into the digital age and made him less intimidating to manufacturers.

For the 2011-12 season, Wichita State made $123,100 off sales of its licensed products. That rose to $400,000 last season and is projected to rise even higher this year.

Then there's what the Shockers no longer have to pay for.

The school's new deal with Nike doesn't provide Wichita State with any cash, but it does give the Shockers an annual allotment of 125 pairs of shoes a year, 25 home and away jerseys, 25 warmups and 25 traveling bags.

The school also isn't paying for the publicity generated by media coverage of the team. Wichita State's sports management program told the athletic department that the Final Four run last year generated $555.2 million in free media.

"That's pretty good," said Barth Hague, the school's chief marketing officer. "Our entire university budget is $291 million."

Sexton says he likes to run his program so that he can provide his coaches and athletes with everything they need. If Wichita State makes another big run, one has to wonder whether Sexton will be able to raise enough to keep basketball coach Gregg Marshall.

After last season's run, Marshall's $1 million salary was raised to $1.6 million, with that number slated to go up to $1.75 million this April. Sexton also added some perks, including the use of a private plane for Marshall and his family for vacations.

Said Sexton: "My dad told me when I first took this job that if nobody wants your coach, you either have the wrong program or the wrong coach."

We couldn’t boil down the list. That was the amazing thing.

Every year, the U.S. Basketball Writers Association board members and district representatives get together on a conference call to boil down the candidates for player of the year, freshman of the year and coach of the year. Usually it’s not terribly complicated. This season it was.

Not for the first two, but for the third. There were so many choices, we were worried we’d leave someone off.

Which got me to thinking, what would coaches say? Who among their peers would they deem the most worthy?

So I decided to ask. I polled 22 different coaches -- from big conferences and small, West Coast, East Coast, Midwest and South -- and asked them (anonymously so they wouldn't feel strange) to name their national coach of the year and why he earned their vote.

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Peter G. Aiken/USA TODAY SportsGregg Marshall has led the Shockers to a flawless record heading into the NCAA tournament despite a target on Wichita State's back.
No surprise, there wasn’t a consensus.

A majority, yes, but not a consensus.

Of the 22 people polled, 11 said Wichita State's Gregg Marshall, three picked Florida's Billy Donovan and two chose Cincinnati's Mick Cronin, while Creighton's Greg McDermott, Virginia's Tony Bennett, Villanova's Jay Wright, SMU's Larry Brown, Kansas' Bill Self and Michigan's John Beilein received one vote apiece.

Marshall got the edge for logical reasons. The head coach of the undefeated Shockers has already made history, leading his team not only to the NCAA's first undefeated regular season in 10 years, but also to a 34-0 record and the Missouri Valley regular-season and conference tournament titles.

"They simply haven’t made a mistake," one coach said of Marshall’s Wichita State team.

Added another: "Going undefeated is next to impossible. Going undefeated after a Final Four appearance is beyond impossible because of the target you have to wear into every game."

Donovan earned the respect of his peers for his ability to overcome suspensions and injuries yet still lead his Florida team to 23 consecutive wins, the first 18-0 conference record in SEC history, an SEC regular-season title and just two losses.

"If the guys weren’t hurt or out against Wisconsin, he could have one loss," one coach said of the Gators’ first loss, in which both Dorian Finney-Smith and Scottie Wilbekin did not play. "And he just does his job. That’s it."

Cronin, the only other multiple-vote-getter, earned props for Cincinnati’s relentless style. The Bearcats, picked to finish fourth in the inaugural season of the American Athletic Conference, instead shared the league title with Louisville.

"He’s just done a heckuva job with his team," one coach said. "They play the best defense and he’s gotten so much out of those guys."

Even though McDermott, Self, Wright, Bennett, Brown and Beilein each received just one vote, plenty of coaches mentioned them while whittling down their choices to a single name.

The stakes were raised this year for Creighton with the Bluejays' move to the Big East, yet thanks to McDermott and in no small part to his son, Doug, not much has changed. Creighton finished second in the league.

"I understand he has the best player in the country, but still, to move up a league, that’s impressive," one coach said of McDermott.

In the expanded and ever-more-difficult ACC, Bennett led Virginia to its first conference regular-season title since 1981, losing just two league games in the process.

"Sixteen-and-one and 13 in a row in the ACC is pretty impressive," the one coach who voted for Bennett said before the Cavaliers closed the regular season with a 75-69 overtime loss to Maryland to end that streak.

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AP Photo/Fred BeckhamLarry Brown has earned the respect of his peers for turning things around so quickly at SMU.
Villanova, another regular-season conference winner, surprised virtually everyone in the country by not only winning the Big East but racking up a 28-3 record. Wright and his team could be in line for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

"This is an example of how a team with capable college players executing a cohesive brand of basketball can achieve at a very high level," Wright’s voter said. "Jay has masterfully orchestrated this championship team, pushing all the right buttons."

And speaking of unexpected, there is SMU. Larry Brown promised big changes when the school hired him two years ago. No one expected such dramatic improvement so quickly.

"No one else could have done what LB has done at SMU," Brown’s endorser said.

Self, meanwhile, essentially has rebuilt his roster with little change in results. Kansas won yet another Big 12 title, the Jayhawks' 10th in a row despite a roster heavily reliant on freshmen.

"He started brand new and here he is. That’s pretty amazing," another coach said.

Finally, Beilein is almost a combo of Self and Donovan. He led the Wolverines to a Big Ten regular-season title despite losing the player of the year (Trey Burke) and Tim Hardaway Jr. from last year’s national championship runner-up team and Mitch McGary for the better part of this season due to injury.

"At the end of the day, it’s not all just about toughness," one of Beilein's peers said. “We talk about that too much. It’s about execution, and he’s the best execution coach in the game."

ST. LOUIS -- The commemorative T-shirts Wichita State received for winning the Missouri Valley Conference tournament Sunday were far from perfect. The back of the shirt contained the tournament bracket, and it had Indiana State listed as the winner.

“That’s crazy, right?” Shockers senior forward Cleanthony Early said. “I guess they predicted that we were going to lose.”

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Scott Kane/USA TODAY SportsFred VanVleet scored 20 points in the Shockers' win over Indiana State.
The mix-up was the result of an error by the T-shirt printer, one which conference officials didn’t catch before handing out the shirts. Yet you didn’t exactly need to be a true detective to recognize the yellow king of Arch Madness.

The Shockers turned back Indiana State 83-69 at the Scottrade Center to keep their loss column a flat circle and capture their first conference tournament title in 27 years. By doing so, they joined the 1990-91 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels as the only Division I teams ever to start a season 34-0. No other team has entered the NCAA tournament with 34 victories, as Wichita State will do next week, with a chance to set the record for perfection against a No. 16 seed.

So the Shockers weren’t about to lose here this weekend, not even against a sturdy and determined Indiana State squad fighting for its own NCAA bid. The crowd that suggested Wichita State would have been better off losing before the real madness begins overlooked this program’s hunger for an MVC tournament title after many disappointments in this city.

“Now that it’s all said and done,” guard Ron Baker said, “it’s a big relief. There was quite a bit of pressure on us, because it hasn’t happened in so many years.”

Relatively speaking, Indiana State put as much pressure on Wichita State as anyone had in a few weeks. After winning their first two tournament games by a combined 47 points, the Shockers found themselves clinging to a four-point lead with a little more than 13 minutes left.

But as they’ve done so often, they answered every thrust with a rally. Fred VanVleet and Tekele Cotton sank back-to-back 3-pointers to push the advantage back to double digits. The Sycamores pulled back within five points a few minutes later, but then Wichita State ripped off a 13-0 spurt to go up 68-50, and that was pretty much that.

“I didn’t have enough timeouts to stop their runs, but that’s what they do,” Indiana State coach Greg Lansing said. “If you turn it over, have any quick shot or lose it at one end, they put it in the basket at the other end. That’s why they’re undefeated. That’s why they’re hoisting the trophy.”

Even with leading scorer Early disappearing offensively in the second half and Baker uncharacteristically struggling with his shot (3-for-11 from the field, 0-for-6 on 3s), the Shockers didn't need to sweat. Point guard VanVleet, who focused mostly on distributing the ball during his first two tournament games, scored 20 of his 22 points in the second half to tie a career high. Cotton, the Valley’s defensive player of the year whom opponents used to sag off, had 20 points and went 4-for-6 behind the arc en route to tourney MVP honors.

“People kind of sleep on that part of my game,” Cotton said of his improved jumper. “But my whole team and my coaches give me confidence to overcome that.”

Nobody will ride into the NCAA tournament with more momentum than these Shockers. For the first time in a while, they actually had to execute down the stretch Sunday to secure a victory. But, as VanVleet noted, “It shows how far you’ve come when somebody being within four or five points is a heck of a test for you.”

They will have nearly two weeks now to rest up, savor the accomplishment of going 34-0 and get ready for the next assignment. The odds are good that they will be back in St. Louis as the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region. Good thing they exorcised some demons in this city.

“It would be something that we're comfortable with,” coach Gregg Marshall said. “There would not be any ‘Ooh, aah’ moments. I think we'd actually be staying, if we get the right seed, in the same hotel, which we're very comfortable with. We know the routine there. The breakfasts are very good.”

Going 34-0 brings certain expectations for the rest of the way, especially for a team whose schedule and conference have constantly been knocked. Wichita State got to the Final Four last season. Would anything less than 40-0 now qualify as a disappointment?

“I don’t think we have to win it all,” Early said. “But we want to win it all. We understand that a 34-0 season is just as rare as a Final Four, and what we’ve accomplished as a group is very special.

“Some people might say if we don’t win it all now it’s a failure. But those are people who can’t get past their own simple minds.”

Know this: Until the Shockers actually lose a game, it’s probably wise to hold off on printing any more completed brackets without them.

ST. LOUIS -- The best and maybe only chance of someone knocking off Wichita State in the early rounds of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament would have involved the Shockers seizing up from the pressure of remaining undefeated.

So, yeah, about that ...

Wichita State hasn't shrunk from the moment one iota. In fact, it somehow appears to have grown even stronger. The Shockers blew the doors off Missouri State 67-42 in Saturday’s semifinals at the Scottrade Center. In their first two tournament games here, they've won by a total of 47 points.

[+] EnlargeCleanthony Early
Scott Kane/USA TODAY SportsAt 33-0 on the season, Cleanthony Early and the Shockers will be a "very, very tough out" in the NCAA tournament, according to coach Gregg Marshall.
On Saturday, they led by as many as 38 in the second half before coach Gregg Marshall emptied his bench. For a team whose motto is “Play Angry,” Wichita State sure had fun posing after dunks and chest-bumping one another.

“That was one of our better-played games of the year,” sophomore guard Ron Baker said. “I’d say our excitement out on the court was the best it’s been all year. We’re just playing relaxed and trying to have fun.”

Basketball is pretty fun when you never lose. Wichita State became just the third Division I team in history to win its first 33 games in a season, tying Larry Bird’s 1978-79 Indiana State Sycamores for the second-best start of all time. Coincidentally, the Shockers will face Indiana State, the No. 2 seed in this event, on Sunday for the MVC tournament title and a chance to join 1990-91 UNLV as the only teams to start 34-0.

Some of their spurts against Missouri State would have made those old Runnin’ Rebels proud. Wichita State went on a 17-0 run during the first half and then eclipsed that with a 24-0 blitzkrieg during a nine-minute second-half span.

“We've had a lot of good runs this year, but I feel like that was one of the best,” senior forward Chadrack Lufile said. “It was special to see us really execute, really play defense and dive for the ball regardless how much we were up. We’re still hungry. I feel like that’s our mentality.”

This was the same Missouri State team that gave the Shockers their biggest scare of the conference season, taking a 19-point lead on Jan. 11 in Springfield before eventually falling in overtime. But Wichita State beat the Bears by 23 points at home in the regular-season finale a week ago and delivered an even worse beating in the third meeting.

The Shockers are very nearly upset-proof because of their consistent defensive and rebounding effort. Or as Missouri State’s Christian Kirk put it, “It’s hard to catch them off their guard because they’re always on their guard.”

They also share the ball and work for good shots on offense, and on Saturday they made eight of 10 3-pointers in the first half, with the only two misses coming on desperate heaves to beat the shot clock. Cleanthony Early, the team’s best post presence, and Tekele Cotton, known mostly as a defensive stopper, each hit three shots from behind the arc. Wichita State was shooting close to 70 percent in the second half before finishing on a cold spell with its subs on the floor.

“If we can shoot it like this for as long as we can continue playing, we’ll be a very, very tough out,” Marshall said.

Marshall calmly sipped from a water cup most of the second half, needing to offer his team little in the way of guidance. He never called a timeout.

“It’s a fun team to watch,” he said. “It’s a fun team to coach. It’s a fun team to be around. Who can find fault with 33-0?”

Marshall has instructed his team to view this tournament weekend as a three-game season and not to think about the undefeated streak. His team likely secured a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament simply by getting to Sunday at Arch Madness. But the Shockers really want to cut the nets down here; the program hasn't won the MVC tourney since 1987, despite being the first or second seed seven times since 2005.

“Our fans deserve it,” Baker said. “They've waited a long time.”

The pressure of that drought and the streak will be in play Sunday. But don't expect that to affect this bunch.

“We want to go out there and make history,” Lufile said. “Every game is history right now, I feel like. And there’s no stopping us now.”

ST. LOUIS -- Make it 32-0.

No. 2 Wichita State continued its flawless record into the postseason on Friday afternoon, rolling past Evansville 80-58 in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament quarterfinals at the Scottrade Center.

The Shockers are now one of only five teams in Division I history to start a season 32-0 or better, although right now they're more interested in winning their first MVC tournament title since 1987. Here are five things to know from the start of their Arch Madness run:

1. New season, same result: Wichita State players insisted during Thursday's interview sessions that they’re viewing this tournament as a new season and that their perfect regular season no longer matters. Evansville (14-19), the No. 9 seed in the field playing with nothing to lose, took a 20-19 lead in the first half. Pressure? Nah. The Shockers answered with a quick 11-3 run triggered by Cleanthony Early's four-point play. They led by 10 at halftime and methodically pulled away in the second half, much as they have all season. The Aces lost by 16 and 14 points in the two regular-season meetings between these teams. Wichita State has won its past seven games by double-digit margins.

2. Shockers put on the second-half squeeze: Gregg Marshall couldn't have been real happy with his team's defense at halftime. Evansville shot 48.1 percent in the first half, and MVC leading scorer D.J. Balentine drilled four 3s on his way to a 17-point half. The Shockers looked more like their normal selves on defense after intermission, forcing the Aces to miss 16 of their first 20 shots and limiting them to 26.7 percent for the half. Balentine sank some long-range jumpers late to finish with 31 points. The defensive play of the game actually came just before halftime, as Early chased down Evansville's Blake Simmons from behind on a fast break and swatted his layup attempt into a row of cheerleaders. Wichita State's hustle stats included nine steals and 11 blocks.

3. Does size matter? One of the major concerns for Wichita State heading into the NCAA tournament is matching up against size and length, as Marshall's team does not start a player taller than 6-foot-9. Evansville's 6-10 Egidijus Mockevicius gave the Shockers a little trouble inside on Friday. Although the Lithuanian had trouble finishing in the post, the Valley's leading rebounder pulled down a game-high 11 boards and had some good looks in the paint. Evansville battled Wichita State to a draw in the rebounding battle, only the sixth time all season the Shockers haven't outrebounded their opponent.

4. Keeping their balance: The Shockers are hard to guard because they're so balanced offensively. Four Wichita State players scored in double figures Friday, and conference player of the year Fred VanVleet added nine points. Early and Ron Baker each scored 17 as the Shockers shot 50 percent from the floor in both halves.

5. Feels like home: As if the Shockers don’t have enough advantages coming into this tournament, they should enjoy something resembling a home-court advantage in St. Louis. Nearly three-quarters of the crowd that turned out for Friday’s early session at the Scottrade Center wore yellow and black, and Wichita State fans are clogging the downtown streets and restaurants. All other fans likely will coalesce around whatever underdog the Shockers face going forward, but they still might be outnumbered in the stands.
videoWICHITA, Kan. -- The first time Gregg Marshall coached Wichita State in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, he didn’t get to coach for very long.

Marshall was ejected in the opener before Indiana State ejected the Shockers from the tournament.

“I had a lot of time to myself in the locker room,” Marshall said. “I was trying to do something to kill the time, so I wouldn’t break anything.”

Waiting for the game to end, Marshall flipped through a media guide. And then, he discovered just how disastrous the Valley tournament had been for the Shockers.

Saturday, Wichita State completed its magical run through the regular season, topping Missouri State to move to 31-0 and become the first team in 10 years to go into college basketball’s postseason undefeated.

But if the Shockers are to assure themselves of that coveted No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, they first must accomplish a feat that has escaped them since 1987.

Win the Valley tournament.

“The only thing left to do is win it,” Marshall said.

[+] EnlargeFred VanVleet
Peter Aiken/Getty ImagesPoint guard Fred VanVleet said he and his teammates know there is little time to celebrate the regular season.
The goal of winning the Valley tournament has eluded the Shockers, even since the resurgence of the program under Marshall.

Before he arrived for the 2007-08 season, Wichita State had never even reached the Valley tournament championship game since it had moved to St. Louis in 1991.

After a rough exit in Marshall’s inaugural trip, Wichita State finally got to the championship game in 2010 but fell to Northern Iowa. The Shockers returned to the tile game last season but lost to Creighton after missing a potential tying 3-pointer at the buzzer.

“We’ve been to the championship game now,” Marshall said. “But now we need to win it.”

That could also be the difference in securing a No. 1 seed for the NCAA tournament and slipping to a No. 2.

Saint Joseph’s, the last team to go through the regular season unbeaten, lost in the first round of the Atlantic 10 tournament, yet was still handed a top seed in 2004.

After Saturday’s win, Marshall avoided politicking for similar treatment.

“They’re not going to ask me. You can ask me, but my opinion doesn’t mean anything,” he said when asked if the Shockers deserved a No. 1 seed regardless of the Valley tournament outcome. “I think so. But I don’t get a vote. I’m not going to be in that room. I’m going to be very excited wherever they place us, wherever they seed us. I think if we play well, we have a chance to play with and beat anybody in the country.”

But this Missouri Valley is not that Atlantic 10, which put three teams other than Saint Joseph’s into the NCAA tournament. At the moment, Wichita State looks like the only Missouri Valley team in line for an at-large bid. As a result, despite being second in the polls, the Shockers’ RPI is just eighth. Their strength of schedule is only 112th.

Which is why conference pride won’t be the only thing on the line in the Valley tournament.

“That’s the bad part about the world we live in," point guard Fred VanVleet said. “We can’t even celebrate this great accomplishment we just had. We’ve just got to keep focusing and look ahead to what’s in front of us.”

Other than history, there’s no reason to believe the Shockers won’t win their first Valley tournament in 27 years.

Wichita State dominated conference play, with only three teams playing the Shockers to within double digits. Missouri State came the closest to pulling the upset, holding a 19-point second-half lead that Wichita State quickly erased before prevailing in overtime. Saturday, the Shockers jumped to an 18-6 lead in a return game against Missouri State by the second media timeout and led by double digits the rest of the game.

Indiana State was the last Missouri Valley team to go through the season undefeated. And that team not only won the Valley tournament but advanced to the national championship game.

These Shockers don’t have a star like the Sycamores did in Larry Bird. But they have the requisite pieces to make another deep run into the tournament a year after advancing to the Final Four.

VanVleet has proven he can control a game with his vigilant ballhandling and pinpoint passing. He ranks among the nation’s leaders in assist-to-turnover ratio. Cleanthony Early is a versatile scorer who can post up a defender one possession then knock down a 3-pointer the next. Ron Baker is a steady perimeter scorer. And the bench is deep, with nine players logging at least 12 minutes a game.

“This [NCAA] tournament is wide open,” Marshall said. “There’s probably at least two handfuls of teams that could win the whole thing this year, and I think we’re in that conversation.”

Of course, that path would be made easier with a No. 1 seed. But to secure it, the Shockers might have to go through another, lesser tournament that hasn’t been so kind.

“That’s the challenge that this team has now,” Marshall said. “Anything short of that would be a disappointment.”

WICHITA, Kan. -- In the closing minutes of college basketball’s first perfect regular season in a decade, Wichita State point guard Fred VanVleet lofted a pass right of the basket. On the other end, Nick Wiggins collected the lob and slammed it through the rim with both hands.

The overflowing crowd of 10,506 could feel perfection coming from the opening tip. And after Wiggins’ dunk, they finally declared it, as chants of “UN-DE-FEAT-ED” reverberated throughout Charles Koch Arena.

"There was a moment before the season I was looking at the schedule, saying, 'Man, I don't think we'll lose any of these games,'" VanVleet said.

“When we’re sitting down someday, we’ll think back to one of the greatest seasons ever played.”

Saturday, the Shockers finished off their perfect, 31-0 regular season in style, routing Missouri State 68-45 to become the first team since Saint Joseph’s in 2004 to go into the postseason undefeated.

“This was pretty special today,” Shockers coach Gregg Marshall said.

Special and inevitable.

Almost two months ago in Springfield, Mo., the Bears came oh so close to ruining Wichita State’s dream of a perfect season. Missouri State led by 19 in the second half, but a furious Wichita State rally catapulted the Shockers to an overtime victory.

This time, the final outcome was never in doubt.

[+] EnlargeFred VanVleet
Peter Aiken/Getty ImagesFred VanVleet liked the way Wichita State took control of Saturday's game.
Riding a wave of momentum spurred on by a boisterous crowd that showed up early despite frigid conditions outside, the Shockers roared to an 18-6 lead before the second media timeout and led by double digits the rest of the way.

“The way we played made everything better,” VanVleet said. “We could've slapped the ball around and came out with a win. But we were on point from the beginning."

The Shockers have been on point since the beginning of last year's NCAA tournament. And they were dynamic again Saturday.

Wichita State beat the Bears to a pulp inside, outrebounding them 43-25.

Underscored by VanVleet’s exclamation alley-oop, the Shockers passed with conviction and foresight, racking up 16 assists.

And with a tenacious full-court press, they overwhelmed yet another opponent in the arena Shocker fans still affectionately term the "Roundhouse."

"We had no answers for them," said Missouri State coach Paul Lusk. "They defend you, they take care of the basketball and they're able to come down and pound it inside every time.”

Cleanthony Early led the onslaught inside with a game-high 19 points and six rebounds. On the perimeter, VanVleet frustrated another adversary with his focused passing and sure ballhandling, dishing out seven assists to just a single turnover. And on the wing, marksman Ron Baker nailed a pair of 3-pointers, both coming at the start of each half.

“This group really enjoys a challenge,” Marshall said. “They enjoy one-and-done basketball like we’re going into now. They embrace whatever is in front of them. They embrace the challenge, the grind. That’s how you achieve something like this. Grind every day and fall in love with the process.

“It’s been an incredibly special and long ride.”

A special ride that could be far from done.

With a deep bench and valuable postseason experience gained last year, the Shockers will ride into next week looking to solidify their case for a No. 1 seed and capture their first Missouri Valley Conference tournament title in 27 years.

In 2004, Xavier ended Saint Joseph’s perfect run in the first round of the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament. St. Joe’s still snagged a No. 1 seed in the East Regional despite the upset. But with Wichita State likely being the only Missouri Valley team in line for an at-large selection, a perfect regular season might not be enough for a No. 1 seed. The Shockers might need a perfect conference tournament in St. Louis, too.

“31-0 is good, but 34-0 is better,” Marshall said. “We have another challenge, another obstacle in front of us in St. Louis.

“I know this group is excited. Also, they’ll have to move on.”

But Saturday, the Shockers weren't ready to move on quite yet.

After Wiggins’ alley-oop dunk, Marshall began subbing out his starters to kick-start an hour-long celebration of the conference trophy and senior day. When Baker reached the bench after being subbed out, he grabbed his jersey No. 31 and snapped it toward the crowd to the loudest ovation of all.

"My teammates told me a couple weeks ago that my number was something special, because that's how many games we could potentially win," Baker said. "I didn't put that together myself. But it's very special.

“It's going to be something I look back on forever."

Wichita State's feat stands apart

February, 26, 2014

Let's start with the thing itself: On Tuesday night, in Peoria, Ill., Wichita State did something no college basketball team has ever done: start 30-0 in the regular season.

It is an epochal accomplishment, one that places the Shockers alongside the great UNLV teams of the early 1990s, Larry Bird-era Indiana State and 1975-76 Indiana -- the last undefeated team in college hoops history. Wichita State will be a heavy favorite against Missouri State on Saturday and in every game they play in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. It is more likely than not that they will wake up on Selection Sunday every bit as perfect as they are right now.

That is a great work of college basketball art. A 30-0 start holds up in a vacuum. It spans circumstances and eras. It is worthy of appreciation with zero qualifications attached. When you strip everything else away, the Wichita State Shockers are the most straightforward of pleasures: a great basketball team that plays great basketball and wins every time it takes the floor.

It's the debate around Wichita State that makes things so complicated.

The Shockers aren't perfecting their art in a vacuum, of course; they aren't Emily Dickinson. They're playing Division I college basketball in late February before a great buzzing hive of viewers, and late February is when we argue about everything -- about who's on the tournament bubble, who's in and out, and who really deserves those four No. 1 seeds. And the terms of this debate have already been drawn.

[+] EnlargeWichita State
AP Photo/ Stephen HaasDebate about schedule strength aside, what Ron Baker and Wichita State have accomplished by going 30-0 is phenomenal.
On one side, there are the skeptics who scoff at Wichita State's conference schedule, who see just one notable win in their 30 (at Saint Louis), who think the Shockers' ability to beat bad teams isn't worth rewarding with a top tournament seed over battle-tested teams such as Kansas. On the other side are the defenders, who remind everyone that Saint Louis hasn't lost since WSU came to town, who believe 30-0 is a feat regardless of foe and who note -- according to ESPN Stats & Info -- that each of the previous four teams in the Associated Press poll era that followed a Final Four appearance with a 30-0 start (including postseason games) made it back to the Final Four the following season.

At first glance, this debate feels like an annoying, jumped-up reprise of the Gonzaga No. 1-seed "pretender" nonsense of a season ago -- full of people tuning in just in time to diminish the accomplishments of a team outside their favorite league. Good times.

It's actually a lot more instructive than that. Indeed, the back-and-forth about Wichita State's No. 1 worthiness helps us better understand the state of the sport itself.

For starters: College basketball is still a land of inequality. After a decade predicting the "rise" of the "mid-major," it is still no easier for very good teams from non-"power six" leagues to get a fair scheduling shake. Wichita State can't get pure home-and-home deals with elite programs. Gregg Marshall has all but begged Kansas to schedule his program; there's no good financial or institutional reason for the Jayhawks to give it even a passing thought.

On Tuesday, ESPN's Jeff Goodman suggested the Shockers alleviate this problem by offering opponents two road games in exchange for one home trip. He's right. That might help. But why should a team that barely missed a spot in the national title game 10 months ago have to pay $200 just to get $100 back? Our much-cited parity exists in March, but at the scheduling board, the biggest leagues still run the show.

Which brings us to the other thing Wichita State's schedule tells us about the game at large: On the court, the game has never been more stratified. Conference realignment has consolidated the vast share of the top teams into seven leagues. A few years ago, the Colonial Athletic Association earned four bids; two of those teams (George Mason and VCU) now play in the Atlantic 10. In three years, Butler went from the Horizon League to the Big East. Conference USA is a shell of its former self. The bubble has never been softer than it is this season because there are so few at-large candidates from outside the biggest leagues. This is a major, long-term shift.

And some leagues just straight up aren't having good seasons. The Missouri Valley Conference is one of them. This is part of the debate the skeptics have right: The MVC is awful this season.

Tuesday night at Bradley, there were dozens of possessions that made Wichita State look like it was playing an overseas August exhibition against 16-year-old European club trainees. An unbeaten team's 30th win has never felt more perfunctory.

Should that matter to the selection committee? How much? Why don't people recognize how good Saint Louis is? What is the value of merely not losing a game, relative to the value of a historically brutal schedule like Kansas'? Are we so sure Wichita State really is one of the four best teams in the country? Should the proven success of a season ago factor at all into this discussion?

These are complicated questions. There is merit in responses both for and against. There is nuance to work through here. Properly contextualized, the Wichita State debate is worth having -- it's not often one example can throw the sport's whole essence into such stark relief.

Fortunately, none of this changes the pure nature of the thing itself: 30-0. Whatever you make of the Shockers' season, and whatever happens in the weeks to come, there is no altering the simple fact of a team that has played 30 college basketball games and won them all.

Eventually, we'll forget about everything else. But 30-0? That will last.

A conversation with Gregg Marshall

December, 30, 2013
Wichita State’s 13-0 start is the top mark in school history. The No. 10 Shockers have thrived off the momentum they attained during last season’s Final Four run. And now, they’re set to begin Missouri Valley Conference play. But the success has not changed the program or its game-to-game focus, Gregg Marshall told

ESPN: You topped Davidson 81-70 on Sunday night, but the Wildcats put up a fight. How do you prepare your team to face a team like Davidson, which is probably a better team than its record suggests?

Gregg Marshall: They had their best player [De'Mon Brooks] out for six games and we did a nice job against them [Sunday]. We weren’t perfect. It wasn’t an aesthetically pleasing game, but in the end we won by 11 points against a team that’s going to win a lot of games down the stretch here.

ESPN: How did the Final Four run last year affect this season’s squad?

[+] EnlargeCleanthony Early
Marvin Gentry/USA TODAY SportsCleanthony Early is getting used to more attention from opposing defenses.
Gregg Marshall: I think it gave them confidence. I think it let them know if we play well and we defend and we play as hard as anybody, we have a chance to be successful. You don’t have to make every shot and you don’t have to make every play, but you have to make more than the opposition. And I think we believe that now, that our guys, if they continue to grind and play harder than the opposition, there’s a chance, if we’re knocking down shots, we’re going to be on the positive end of the scoreboard.

ESPN: You dealt with injuries last season. Ron Baker has been hindered by an ankle injury this year. What’s his current status, and what concerns do you have about his health going forward?

Gregg Marshall: We’ve got to get him healthy. He’s far from being 100 percent. It was evident [Sunday]. You could tell because he grimaced as he shot the ball. The good news is an injured Ron Baker is better than a lot of players. That’s just a fact. He knows how to be in the right place. He’s constantly giving you everything he can possibly give you. Cleanthony Early did not practice [Saturday]. He was under the weather, but he gutted it out and had a hell of a game. That’s what we coaches have to do now. We have to manage crises. We have to manage all the things that will come along.

ESPN: How has point guard Fred VanVleet matured since last season?

Gregg Marshall: He’s a dynamic talent. This guy is playing so heady and so smart and so well, he is really orchestrating our team. He’s better defensively than people realize. He’s doing a great job executing. He’s like a coach on the floor. That term is spread around. He should be the poster child. He’s a guy that does a great job. He wants to win more than I do, which is saying a lot. Just a tremendous, tremendous young talent.

ESPN: How has Cleanthony Early handled the increased pressure he has faced as a player whom opponents know they have to contain now?

Gregg Marshall: Lately, he’s been incredible. The last handful of games he has just found his way. If they’re going to [defend] him on the 3-point line, he’s going to go inside, he’s going to drive it, he’s going to find the ball in the mid-post. He’s scored over 20 points in some of the last several games and he’s really rebounding well. He’s really starting to come into his own. He realizes he’s a marked man. I just told him don’t worry about the physicality. Don’t worry about the people defending you. Just play. And he’s starting to have a lot of success.

ESPN: You’re undefeated now. And there’s talk about this team’s potential to get through the conference slate without a loss. What’s your response to that?

Gregg Marshall: Anybody talking about that has not played a gantlet of the 18-game Missouri Valley Conference schedule. That’s not something we’re talking about. We’re talking about winning the next game. And the next game is at Southern Illinois and that’s going to be a challenge. [Barry Hinson’s] going to be coming back from a family tragedy. He’s won two in a row since his rant. … We know. We lost there last year. We’ve got our work cut out for us. We’re not overlooking anyone. And we’ve got 18 of those.
A few months ago, Kansas state Sen. Michael O'Donnell did something politicians are typically loath to do: He tried to legislate a rivalry into existence.

O'Donnell, a Republican from Wichita, introduced a bill that would force both Kansas and Kansas State to schedule Wichita State at least once a season. Initially, O'Donnell proposed making state funding contingent on satisfactory scheduling; he later removed that provision, saying, as the Lawrence Journal-World related, that he "didn’t want his proposal to be confrontational."

The law failed, which surprised nobody -- but neither were many surprised by its introduction in the first place. There's a reason why a politician from Wichita might think it expedient to introduce such a bill: Shockers fans want nothing more than a regular-season shot at Kansas.

A few weeks after O'Donnell introduced his bill, Wichita Eagle columnist Bob Lutz wrote that the Kansas game — or the idea of it — was the "one topic I hear about more than any other."
Shocker basketball fans love their team, no doubt about it. But they can become obsessed with KU. I don’t really get it, but it’s real. Perhaps it’s all the success the Jayhawks have had over the years. Perhaps it’s a perception that KU fans think they’re a little better than the rest. Perhaps there is some class envy here.
I think Wichita State-Kansas could develop into one of the finest basketball rivalries in the country if the two schools ever decided to give it a chance. It’s KU, of course, that does the most to hold it back. And by “the most,” I mean the Jayhawks virtually ignore the fact that Wichita State even exists.

On Monday, Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall expressed that program-wide desire, telling Fox Sports Kansas City that he hoped the game would happen, and that he had offered Kansas a three-game home-and-home series, but that he wasn't "going to be bought … I'm not going to go to Allen Fieldhouse for a check."

Which, yeah, them's fighting words, and on Wednesday Bill Self responded:

Read more here:
“This isn’t knocking Wichita State,” Self told The Star on Tuesday. “But if it was best for our program, I would reach out to them about scheduling them. But it’s not. I’ve heard a lot of talk about them wanting to play us so bad; Gregg Marshall’s never contacted me about playing.”

Hold on, though, there's more. Self related his experience as coach at Tulsa, when he couldn't get Oklahoma or Oklahoma State to schedule his team.
“And they wouldn’t play,” Self said. “But I didn’t blame them. And I didn’t make a big deal of it.”

This, of course, is surely the attitude that drives Wichita State fans bonkers -- and the attitude that gives Kansas fans that extra taste of hegemonic joy: We're Kansas and you're Wichita State. Know your place, please. Don't make a fuss. We're not going to play you, because what do we stand to gain? Pipe down. Extra-maddening, no doubt, is that they're right. Even Wichita State fans, who can do no more than turn Marshall's old use of the term "chickenhawks" into a message board/school yard insult, would have to agree with such an obvious dynamic.

But college basketball schedules need not always be about sheer strategic or monetary gain. You can be pragmatic, and live in the real world, and still remember why the whole regional sports fandom thing kicked off in the first place: because it's fun.

Look how hot the Kansas-Wichita State rivalry is sans actual basketball. Maybe O'Donnell's law is a good idea after all.