Wichita State University men’s basketball program has become one of the name brand programs for mid-major success stories in the NCAA. After a loss to Northern Iowa in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, Wichita State and coach Gregg Marshall were considered the most polarizing bubble team in tournament history by some. Now, with Selection Sunday in the rearview mirror, Coach Marshall and Wichita State face Vanderbilt. With a staunch defense, Wichita State could begin a streak of shocks if they get past Vandy.
Surviving the bubble burst is nothing new to Wichita State. Coach Marshall and the Shockers have been there before. Since taking over for now-Maryland Terps coach Mark Turgeon in 2007, Marshall has faced tournament controversy in stride while consistently building WSU’s success up to new heights. In doing so, he and his players have constantly brought intense battles to their opponents–even pulling off some March Madness runs that live up to their moniker.
The early years for Marshall and Wichita State don’t immediately jump out as impressive. After posting 11-20 and 17-17 records his first two seasons, the team began to climb the ladder with a 2009 CBI Tournament run into the second round. The 2010-11 season saw coach Marshall–whose career was shaped by less than household name leaders like Hal Nunnally, Kevin Eastman, John Kresse and Greg White–steer his team to an impressive 29-8 record, finishing second in the MVC. Unfortunately for the Shockers, a March Madness invite wasn’t in the cards and, instead, they found themselves in a fourth placed seed in the NIT. Undeterred by what they saw as a snub, the Shockers ran the table and took the NIT championship home to Wichita.
Since capturing the NIT title, coach Marshall and his subsequent squads became NCAA Tournament mainstays over the years. More impressively, the mid-major is far from and one and done type of team when they get to dance. Since returning to the tournament, they’ve reached the Final Four (2012-13) with a recruiting class lacking blue chip names, the 3rd round with a 35-1 record (2013-14) and most recently, a Sweet 16 run.
Since taking over for Turgeon, Marshall has posted an 117-45 record in Wichita. Combined with his previous success at Winthrop (104-24 over 9 seasons), Marshall knows how to turn fringe teams into NCAA Tournament fixtures. While he couldn’t move Winthrop out of the first two rounds, he and the Shockers proved that’s not their case.
Regardless of triumph or snubs, it’s not about Gregg Marshall–something he’s quick to mention. As ‘fearful’ as he is over a snub this season, he cares more about his deserving players, including seniors Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet. He recently told USA Today that, “I’m not worried about me…I’m worried about explaining why Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet aren’t playing in the NCAA tournament their senior year when they deserve to be there. That’s what I’m fearful of.”
And the rest of the field should be fearful of Marshall, Baker, VanVleet and the rest of this scrappy Wichita State team too. Now that they’re in, watch out. While Wichita State isn’t the prototypical upset machine that a mid-major like Gonzaga became known for during its early runs, don’t expect Marshall’s team to roll over either. Vanderbilt will be no easy out, nor will the sixth-seed Arizona Wildcats–who await the winner. Win or lose, any team that faces the Shockers are sure to walk out knowing they went against one of the league’s toughest squads.
For Gregg Marshall, a self-proclaimed “29-year overnight sensation,” he’ll continue to fight with the Shockers up until the final buzzer of the season. Be sure to watch their games, you won’t be let down.
If they knock a few big names off along the way, don’t call it a Shock.
This article originally appeared on Jim Fiore’s LinkedIn