Pittsburgh was their first victim. Then it was Gonzaga, followed by LaSalle and Ohio State. The Wichita State Shockers have seemed to dominate the four teams they have played thus far in the tournament. The clichéd phrase “shocking the nation” has been tossed left and right since the Shockers knocked out Gonzaga in the Round of 32. But has Wichita State’s “Cinderella story” really been that shocking?
I know it may be hard to believe, but there are more than just redneck farm boys on this basketball team. There is deep, athletic talent coached by an incredibly intelligent staff. When you put two and two together, Wichita State is composed of an ideal tournament roster.
Their point guard, Malcolm Armstead, is a dauntless guard who takes the ball to the hoop with confidence. Red shirt freshman Ron Baker’s three point shooting has been surreal in the tournament, hitting 40% of his attempts from long range. The Shocker’s big men, Cleanthony Early and Carl Hall, are strong rebounders who can be scoring threats. Along with impressive starters, Wichita State is complemented with arguably the deepest bench in the tournament. All but two of the Shocker players average 11+ minutes per game, and none more than 29. With nine players playing over 25% of the game, Wichita State lacks visual tiredness, giving them an advantage with their fresh legs. The issue for the Shockers, as the second best team from the Missouri Valley Conference meets the Big East champion, Louisville, is experience.
This Saturday, Wichita State will have their biggest game in school history against Louisville. Wichita State’s leading scorer, Early, averages just 13.7 points per game. When compared to Louisville’s Russ Smith, who puts up 19 a game, Early looks like David facing Goliath. The same goes for every Shocker when put next to every Cardinal. However, the stamina and togetherness Wichita State has could spell doom for the Cardinals. Unfortunately for the Shockers, Louisville is motivated more than ever because of Kevin Ware’s devastating leg injury suffered in the Elite Eight.
I believe the winner of this game will face Michigan in the National Championship. There, I think the champion is a toss-up. Louisville’s motivation could carry over into Monday’s game, benefiting them greatly. Wichita State’s run could continue into the championship game, where all of the pressure would be on the expected-winner, Michigan. The Wolverines’ Trey Burke has been absolutely red hot, though, and has his team fearless. Although this Final Four has been unlike those in previous years, whoever emerges on top will still have well-earned it.
“They’re one of the best teams in the country, if not the best.” This statement came out of Missouri basketball coach Frank Haith’s mouth in a press conference after his team had just taken down the fifth ranked Florida Gators. As the Tigers prepared for their game on Super Tuesday, they knew they had a tough battle ahead of them. Many believed that Florida was going to be too big of an obstacle, especially for a Missouri team that has lost to teams like LSU and Arkansas. Yet the players and coaches knew that something was going to go their way on the chilly Tuesday night at Mizzou Arena.
For many, it was simply impossible for Missouri to beat Florida, and those people had reason to believe that it couldn’t happen. After an obliterating and embarrassing 83-52 loss in Gainesville earlier this season, it was only logical that Missouri wasn’t going to make this a game. However, there was one thing the Tigers had going for them; they were playing at Mizzou Arena. Any team that steps foot on the floor at Mizzou Arena, no matter how good they are, better be ready for a dog fight, and Florida was not.
So what is so special about the Tigers’ home floor? Well, over the last 86 games at the arena, the Tigers are an impressive 82-4. They also currently hold a 16 game winning streak at home, which has overlapped from last season. Current head coach Frank Haith has been a very successful coach at Mizzou posing a 30-1 career record in the building. But what is it that makes this place so special? “Deep down inside, it took everyone to win this game,” said junior point guard Phil Pressey about the win against Florida. The thing is, he meant everybody. Yes, the players and the coaching staff, but the fans were the ones keeping the game alive. The fans who helped Mizzou keep momentum when attempting to cut two different 13 point deficits, one in each half. The fans are the most special part of the Tigers success at home.
So what is there to conclude from this article? Well I can tell you one thing. There is magic at Mizzou arena. Yes, the Tigers have had a poor record on the road, and have played very inconsistently. However, when they come home, there will always be a challenge. So I say to any team that ever tries to step on the court at Mizzou Arena, watch out.