By Travis Mounts
There’s been an explosion of black and gold across south central Kansas as the Wichita State University men’s basketball team has surprised college basketball and earned a spot in the Final Four, the pinnacle of the annual national championship tournament.
The Shockers cemented their spot among the nation’s elite with a 70-66 win Saturday over Ohio State, which had been considered one of the best teams in the country all season. WSU built a 20-point lead, then held off the Buckeyes as they pulled to within three points of the Shockers.
WSU easily beat LaSalle last Thursday 72-58. It was the only game so far in this year’s tournament where the Shockers were considered the favorite. They opened the tournament with wins over Pittsburgh 73-55 and over top-seed Gonzaga 76-70. Gonzaga has been considered a Cinderella in years past, and this season, when the Gonzaga Bulldogs finally were considered a favorite, WSU stole the glass slipper and wore it longer than the Bulldogs ever have.
Goddard city administrator Brian Silcott is a proud Wichita State alumnus. When asked if he’d be willing to talk about the Shockers, he made his feelings immediately known.
“I’m in favor of naming a street in Goddard ‘Gregg Marhsall Boulevard,’” he said proudly.
Whether the city council would sign off on that idea is another story, but it shows how Shocker fans feel about the team’s biggest success in four decades.
Silcott hasn’t traveled to any NCAA tournament games this year and won’t be in Atlanta this weekend, but he was in Greensboro, N.C., and Washington, D.C., when the Shockers made their last run into the Sweet 16. He also traveled with the team to a 2008 tournament game in Las Vegas.
“It’s a phenomenal experience. School pride and fan unity are the norm,” he said.
Dave and Stephanie Bush have been traveling to the tournament games this season. Their son, Zach, is an Eisenhower graduate and a red-shirt freshman on the team. That means he doesn’t see any game time, but other than that participates as a full team member.
“It has been the ride of our lives,” Stephanie Bush said Tuesday evening. “This team is a blast to watch. They play so hard.”
They said Zach feels very at home with his Shocker teammates.
“He’s been made to feel very much part of the team, and they’ve treated us so well,” she said.
Many Wichita State fans would argue that the Shockers aren’t that much of a Cinderella story. They finished second in a very strong league and behind a Creighton squad that was a regular top-25 team this year. WSU dealt with injuries for much of the season, and is finally healthy at the most important time of the year.
Tickets to the Final Four in Atlanta have sold briskly at Wichita State, and airline and bus seats to Georgia are being snapped up, too.
The Shockers will face Louisville on Saturday. The Cardinals are the top-seeded team in the entire tournament, but this won’t be the first game the Shockers were expected to lose in this year’s tourney.
Tipoff will be just after 5 p.m. Saturday. If the Shockers advance, the title game will be on Monday night.
All three of Kansas’ Division I teams made this year’s tournament, and the Kansas Jayhawks advanced to the Sweet 16. The Jayhawks, who won the title in 2008, played in last year’s championship game.