A motley crew from 13 completely different places - including seven junior college players - has crashed a party usually reserved for top prospects and high ranking recruits.
Wichita State punched its ticket into the Final Four this past weekend with an improbable 70-66 victory over Ohio State. Mid-majors live again in college basketball as the Shockers are the fourth mid-major in as many years to make the Final Four.
The next daunting task is to face a Louisville program whose men’s basketball has an annual operating budget triple that of Wichita State. For the Missouri Valley Conference, it could be their last hurrah as they are the latest conference to be poached by bigger leagues fueled by more lucrative television contracts.
The NCAA Tournament has been a high ride for a season of ups and downs for Wichita.
The season has truly been a true roller coaster for the Shockers. This was to be a rebuilding season with the exodus of their top five scorers from last year’s tournament team including All-MVC selections Joe Ragland and Garrett Stutz. What has happened with the Shockers is a team coming of age at the right time.
The impact players are all young and improving as their top three scorers, forwards Cleanthony Early, Carl Hall and point guard Malcolm Armstead are in their first or second years in Wichita arriving via transfer. Three-point specialist Ron Baker is a redshirt freshman. Sophomore starting guard Tekele Cotton averaged less than 10 minutes per game as a freshman was pressed into action with the season-ending injury to then-starting guard Evan Wessel. Ron Baker missed 21 games during the season and Carl Hall missed seven.
The results were early struggles as for the first part of the season, A 15-1 start led to a tough stretch starting in mid-January as a 5-4 record followed, a rocky go that contributed to their No. 9 ranking in the tournament.
The turn-around happened as Wichita State has done the little things en route to the Final Four.
This is a better night in-night out defensive team than the Butler and VCU Final Four teams with the Shocker’s defensive efficiency rating solid at .899.
Why the Shockers are Final Four bound...
Of the eight losses during the season, six have come from allowing an average of more than one point per possession in a game; the other two losses yielded an average of at least .925 point per possession. This postseason, Wichita State held Pitt, LaSalle and Ohio State below .9 points per possession with only Gonzaga scoring more than a point per possession. Their perimeter defense has been stellar this postseason.
Against LaSalle and Ohio State, the Shockers pounded the offensive glass to a tune of a +10 advantage. Second chance points and limiting fast break points has been a huge plus for Wichita.
Against Pittsburgh, Wichita attacked the interior and went to the foul line 41 times in total, 20 more than their counterparts. They are a physical frontcourt who contests shots and create foul trouble for their opponent.
This is not a team with the luxury of an NBA lottery pick such as their Final Four counterparts. Wichita State is a team as they rely on a transfer from Oregon, Malcolm Armstead, who had to pay his own way last season while sitting out. After averaging 9 points per game for Oregon, Armstead has averaged 15 points per game in the NCAA Tournament. There is also depth on this team as well meaning that everyone is expected to step-in and contribute.
Leigh Klein was formerly on staff at Texas and Rhode Island and now owns Five-Star Basketball Camps, the nation’s top basketball camp. He contributes to 247Sports' coverage of college basketball and he is a frequent guest on radio shows across the nation. Klein can be followed at @LeighAlanKlein