Wichita State’s reward for a perfect regular season is a loaded Midwest Region, where the top-seeded Shockers will be joined by fellow Final Four participants Michigan and Louisville from a year ago and two of the titans of college hoops.
Now that’s something for the Shockers to be angry about.
Coach Gregg Marshall’s team landed the first No. 1 seed in school history on Sunday night and will begin play Friday in St. Louis, where they ran their record to 34-0 by winning the Missouri Valley tournament title last weekend. The Shockers will open against the winner of a First Four game between Big West champion Cal Poly and SWAC champion Texas Southern.
Also inhabiting the Midwest are the second-seeded Wolverines and fourth-seeded Cardinals, who played each other in last year’s title game won by Louisville. Then there’s No. 3 seed Duke and No. 8 seed Kentucky, two programs with March pedigrees that match up with anybody.
Not much of a prize for Wichita State, the first school to reach the NCAA tournament with a perfect record since UNLV in 1991. In fact, the minefield might just give the Shockers a good reason to keep “playing angry,” that mantra they’ve adopted over the past couple of years.
“I feel like I have something to prove, and my teammates have something to prove,” Shockers star Cleanthony Early said. “And when you will be facing programs that people think you can’t beat, those are the types of challenges you need to prove yourself.”
If the Shockers advance, they’ll await the winner of Kentucky and No. 9 seed Kansas State, a school that rarely plays them even though they’re a few hours’ drive from each other.
“When you watch college basketball when you grow up, you think about three programs - you think about Kansas, Duke and Kentucky,” Kansas State guard Shane Southwell said. “I was fortunate enough to play against Kansas and Duke and now I’m about to play Kentucky. I want to beat them. It’ll be a great experience, and they’re a really big program and it’s something I want to get under my belt.”