Wichita State Shockers guard Fred Van Vleet (23) and forward Carl Hall (22, back) celebrate after the beating Ohio State, 70-66, to reach the Final Four. The Shockers are trying to become the first No. 9 seed to reach the national title game.
ATLANTA --- Gregg Marshall might be the only person in America who doesn’t believe Wichita State, the No. 9 seed that won the West Region by defeating top-seeded Gonzaga and No. 2 seed Ohio State, isn’t a Cinderella story.
“I don’t think Cinderella left four glass slippers,” he said of the Shockers, who won four games in the West to reach Atlanta. “She only lost one.”
Marshall’s point -- surprise teams, or Cinderella stories, last only a round, maybe two. The Shockers aren’t coming to Atlanta to celebrate the end of their season. The destination isn’t common relative to the competition.
Wichita State’s last Final Four was in 1965. But in recent years, so-called mid-majors George Mason (2006), VCU (2011) and Butler were in this position, proving parity in college basketball is no myth.
Neither is Louisville’s athleticism or depth. Marshall said Louisville’s guard tandem of Russ Smith and Peyton Siva is only the start of Wichita State’s problems.
“They’re very, very fast, athletic, push it extremely hard,” he said. “What you’ve got to do is not turn the ball over. If we’re turning the ball over and giving them transition opportunities, then we’re not doing what we’re trying to do if we’re taking bad shots and allowing them to get out in transition.”
Marshall, 50, said the Shockers left Kansas believing they would celebrate more victories in this tournament. Still, as a 10.5-point favorite -- the biggest underdog since 1999, according to Pregame.com -- Wichita State have many more observers to convince to truly put the program on the map.
Marshall’s players can relate.
“When I heard about Wichita State and found out that it was in Kansas, first thing came to mind was Wizard of Oz, like Dorothy,” said 23-year-old guard Malcolm Armstead, who went to junior college, spent two years at the University of Oregon and finally arrived at Wichita State, where he worked at a car dealership to pay his own way through school. “That was the only thing I really knew about it. But I’m glad I’m here. We’re making the most of our opportunity.”
Louisville, the No. 1 overall seed in the 2013 NCAA Tournament, hasn’t been truly tested and cruised through a minefield of a Midwest region bracket. The Cardinals aren’t taking Wichita State lightly.
“I’ll say this without exaggeration. They’re the best team we will have faced this year on the defensive end. They are Marquette on steroids in terms of the way they play defense.”
Marshall preaches defense and rebounding. At the center of it all is Carl Hall, who is a polished post player and the key cog to Marshall’s defense. The goggles-wearing 6-foot-8 forward cut off his trademark dreadlocks after five years just before the start of the 2012 NCAA Tournament.
“He’s the heartbeat of our team,” Marshall said.
Hall, 24, is on the roster this season only because he received a medical waiver for a sixth season. He had to quit basketball at Middle Georgia College because of fainting spells. Hall said the “scary” spells occurred at least seven times.
Without basketball, he took a job at a light-bulb factory earning $12 an hour. He also began taking blood pressure medication and by 2009, doctors told him he could play without restrictions. He was a first-team junior college All-American in 2010-11, averaging almost 18 points and 9.6 rebounds and signed with Wichita State last season.
“With Carl’s degree, which he has in hand now, he can go back and at least be a supervisor,” Marshall said.