Wichita State set for debut in American Athletic Conference
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Wichita State is set to say goodbye to the small towns and hello to the big cities.
The Shockers are ready for their call up.
True, the Athletic American Association may not be a premier league, but the Shockers earned a promotion of sorts when it jilted the one-bid Missouri Valley Conference and transferred to the AAC.
Look out the airplane on the next road trip, Shockers. Check out the high-rises and skyscrapers towering in the city skylines.
“Nothing against Peoria or Cedar Falls or Carbondale, Illinois,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said, “but now we’ve got Orlando and Dallas and Houston and New Orleans. Cincinnati. On and on. Maybe now we can catch an NBA game when we’re in town. Or have a nice steak somewhere.”
Well, the stakes have been raised for Wichita State — which has long wanted to prove its regular-season mettle in a meatier conference — now that it joined a league which needed an anchor team just as much as the Shockers needed a better conference.
Perhaps, both the AAC and the Shockers will come out winners in this union.
“When you’re making a deal at the baseball trade deadline, both teams want to win,” Marshall said. “Somebody needs a relief pitcher, somebody needs a power bat.”
In its first at-bat of the season, WSU got surprised with a curve: Cincinnati was the preseason pick Monday to win the AAC title, in voting of the conference’s head coaches. The Bearcats earned the honor by 1 point (and two more first-place votes) over the Shockers. Wichita State has been to six straight NCAA Tournaments and reached the Final Four in 2013.
But the AAC’s Bearcats, SMU and Connecticut are not Drake, Evansville, Bradley and Northern Iowa.
The Shockers, though, have been as good any power conference team once the schedule hits March, winning at least one NCAA Tournament game each of the last five years, highlighted by the run to the Final Four in 2013. WSU’s run that season ended with a loss to Louisville and much was made of the fiscal disparity between the two programs — the Shockers at the time had a program budget of $3.1 million while Cardinals coach Rick Pitino made $3.9 million in base salary alone.
Fast forward four years and the disparity had grown wider: Marshall talked up his program in Philadelphia for AAC media day while Pitino lost his job in the wake of a college corruption schedule.
The fallout from the national federal investigation of the sport had aftershocks in Wichita because there will be no restitution for that loss to the Cardinals in the Final Four. The Cardinals went on to defeat Michigan in the national championship game.
“Maybe I need to contact coach (John) Beilein and we need to get together. They lost to them in the finals. Maybe we need to have a 2013 national championship game next year.”
How about it? A Wolvervines-Shockers matchup with mythical championship bragging rights on the line?
“I’d like to play the 2013 national championship game somewhere next year with coach Beilein,” Marshall said. “That’s what we’ll call it. Maybe we’ll go back to Atlanta. Maybe they’ll let us have the Georgia Dome for a day.”
Even with a Final Four appearance, Marshall had always felt slighted by the tournament committee when it was seeded, once encouraging the Shockers to “Play Angry,” in March because of the perceived disrespect.
Take last season, for example, when the Shockers went 30-4 (17-1 MVC) and hadn’t lost since January when it was slapped with a No. 10 seed and lost to second-seed Kentucky in the second round. The Shockers were seeded ninth the year they played in the Final Four.
“If you’ve been following college basketball the last three or four years, you know that when Wichita State gets in the tournament, when we’re able to slide in the tournament, we’re dreadfully underseeded,” Marshall said. “Maybe this will help.”
WSU’s arrival should give an RPI boost to an AAC that put only one at-large team in the 2017 tournament.
“Maybe this year, because of Wichita State, you just hope and pray you get more respect from the committee, if you get that far,” Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said.
The Shockers have their own issues to sort out before conference play starts. Landry Shamet and Markis McDuffie, two key cogs toward a championship push, will both miss the start of the season with foot injuries. McDuffie hobbled around on crutches, his left foot in a cast, his confidence sky high.
“We get to show the world what we’re really about,” he said.
What’s the world going to see?
“Well, we didn’t have a lot of TV games. We have TV games now,” he said.
The Shockers hope to give college basketball fans something worth watching.