|ESPN.com: NCAA Tourney 13||[Print without images]|
LOS ANGELES -- Throughout the regular season, Wichita State wrestled with communication issues.
Gregg Marshall would yell, and his players wouldn't respond. Malcolm Armstead and his teammates would ask for instruction, and Marshall would not react.
There's no rift within the program. The two sides just couldn't hear each other, because the Charles Koch Arena was so loud every night.
"Sometimes you [can't] hear the coach," Armstead said. "You have to run over to him."
|Gregg Marshall has turned his mid-major program into a destination for some elite recruits.|
The pristine venue that's the hub for the school's first Elite Eight squad since 1981 was renovated 10 years ago via sizable contributions from the school's donors. It's the most glamorous symbol of the university's -- and its wealthy boosters' -- financial commitment to the program.
The Elite Eight matchup between Ohio State and Wichita State contains a typical David versus Goliath plotline. Thad Matta's program boasts a variety of facilities and a $122 million athletics budget. Wichita State's athletics budget ($19.5 million annually per the U.S. Department of Education) is only a slice of that.
They're the accoutrements of the BCS lifestyle. The Buckeyes use their windfall to lure future lottery picks and elite prospects.
"It's just a winning atmosphere," said former McDonald's All-American Amir Williams. "It's a pleasure to come here and get better."
But the apparent gap between the two schools is not necessarily as wide as the numbers suggest. Marshall makes $1.3 million per year. It's not John Calipari money, but he's still in the highest tax bracket.
The man who leads the company that gave Wichita State the $6 million donation to kick off its renovation campaign a decade ago is as rich as any booster in college sports. Charles Koch, who heads Koch Industries, is worth $34 billion, according to Forbes.com.
The team's athletic complex features a practice facility that houses its offices, film room, academic center, weight room and practice gym. Some Big Ten squads don't even have practice facilities.
This offseason, the Shockers will begin a $250,000-plus renovation of locker rooms that were completed a few years ago simply because they feel like it, not because the locker rooms are in poor shape.
Marshall will use the summer months to enhance the program on the recruiting trail, and he won't fly commercially to do it. He has frequent access to private jets in the nation's "air capital."
"It's a big-time help," he said. "I literally can go on an off day, see three kids on a trip, and be back home for dinner. And I'm talking some remote outposts. Some of these places, they're hard to get to. You don't have to fly commercial, sit there and wait on the flight. When you get there, you're in the air in 10 minutes and they're waiting for you. And they've never told me no. They continually say whatever you need to go recruit. And that goes for myself, my assistant coaches. ... I don't know what our budget is, honestly, because I guess I've never used it all or I've never spent too much that they've had something to say about it. We do whatever we need to do."
The Shockers don't have the legacy or tradition that the Buckeyes have forged over the years, but they'll come to Staples Center with a talented crew that can upset Matta's program.
Marshall has turned down multiple job offers because he's content with the resources that the university has reserved for Shockers men's basketball. That's how he has managed to attract players who've outplayed Pitt, Gonzaga and La Salle in the NCAA tournament.
His players and his coaching staff possess some of the same luxuries that their high-major opponents have utilized to grow. They're not always as fancy as those used by their wealthier counterparts, but they're available.
So the "David" tag is probably improper for these Shockers. David fought with a slingshot. Marshall battles his coaching peers with private jets and billionaire backers.
"If you're striving for excellence, you have to find a way to stretch these resources, because it is an arms race," said Wichita State athletic director Eric Sexton.
|Thad Matta has some luxuries at Ohio State, but that doesn't guarantee victories.|
Still, Wichita State is clearly not Ohio State. The Buckeyes are building a second basketball practice facility right now. Their football team makes nearly $80 million each year.
Basketball, however, is not football.
That's why some of the hottest coaching candidates in the country have turned down bigger programs in recent years. The fact that more coaches are making seven figures certainly helps, but they also believe they can win where they are now.
That's because college basketball features multiple methods of molding a program that can ultimately compete with the nation's best.
"Basketball's different than most sports," said Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith. "Parity in basketball is huge. ... I don't even use the term mid-major anymore. When I was at Eastern Michigan University, we beat teams that we'd look at the financial part of it, we never should have beat. It's really about your teacher. Who's your coach? And how does he take advantage of the environment that he's in to get the type of players to win? That's really what it's all about. Most people put too much emphasis on that gap thing. It's that leader that's critical."
That was Fred Van Vleet's perspective when he chose Wichita State. The Rockford, Ill., product was a four-star recruit per ESPN.com (ranked No. 83 in the class of 2012).
The freshman had visited Wisconsin, Illinois and DePaul. When he saw Wichita State for the first time, however, he recognized that the Missouri Valley Conference standout had the resources he believed were necessary to win.
"Obviously, a high-major is a little more decked out, but at the same time [Wichita State] had everything that every other school had," he said. "There was no disparity in that sense. Maybe something was a little bit bigger or a little bit nicer here and there, but the job was getting done. That was big in my choice, too. Anything I could get there, I could get it [at Wichita State]."
On Saturday, practice facilities, private flights and salaries will not matter. But Deshaun Thomas and Carl Hall will. Armstead and Aaron Craft, too.
But Wichita State's surge to this moment might be a sign that the "Davids" of yesteryear are more capable of competing against top programs -- with both their rosters and their checkbooks -- than they've ever been.
Both programs have used their respective resources to build teams that will have an equal shot at the Final Four on Saturday, and that's the only meaningful element of the matchup. Win and advance. Lose and go home, regardless of Ohio State's financial edge and facilities.
"It's not going to score us a point or get us a rebound tomorrow," Matta said.