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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Best of 2010: Shockers made rare run in St. Louis

BY PAUL SUELLENTROP
The Wichita Eagle

The Eagle's sports staff looks back at the Best of 2010. Each writer shares a memorable moment from his or her beat.

Wichita State's best day on the basketball court in 2010 ended with a 15-point loss.

We can say that now. On that March day in St. Louis, it didn't feel good for the Shockers. Northern Iowa won the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament title with a 67-52 win over WSU.

Then, painful. Now, a good start on unfinished business.

WSU's best three-day stay in St. Louis ended badly. That's better than ending quickly, which is how things went for the Shockers in the tournament most seasons.

From 1988-2009, WSU got closer to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament than it did winning the MVC Tournament. From 1988-2009, WSU won two games in a row in the NCAA Tournament and the NIT. Not in the MVC Tournament.

"This year we were able to win two games and get to the finals, so I think we're making strides," WSU coach Gregg Marshall said that day in March. "I'll take it."

WSU ranked as an outsider in the MVC's biggest basketball party — until last season.

On March 7, 2010, WSU played in the MVC Tournament championship game. For a program to be a consistent player in the MVC, it needs to win in St. Louis. It needs to believe it can win in St. Louis.

Relevancy accomplished in 2010. The Shockers beat Missouri State and Illinois State to reach the title game. Clevin Hannah and Garrett Stutz made the all-tournament team, the first Shockers so honored since Randy Burns in 2003. Before Burns, nobody (the MVC didn't pick a team in 1987 when WSU last played in and won the title game).

It can be done.

Former Shocker Matt Braeuer played in four MVC Tournaments and coached in two — including 2010. He didn't regard St. Louis as a place filled with bad memories. Each season he went to the first shootaround at the Scottrade Center excited about the possibility of cutting down the nets.

WSU's rotten history didn't matter to the players, at least until the history turned positive. In 2010, the Shockers earned insight into what it takes to win on the MVC's biggest stage.

"Sometimes experience is overrated, until you don't have it," Braeuer said. "Now those guys have been in that atmosphere. They know more about how to win at this level with this pressure. When you haven't been through it, maybe you don't understand how to deal with that pressure. It's still basketball."

St. Louis isn't just a place for Creighton to torment the Shockers. It doesn't belong to thousands of maroon-clad Southern Illinois fans. Northern Iowa's ownership of the trophy isn't permanent. The drive back to Wichita doesn't have to be filled with what-ifs and why-nots.

The Shockers will return to the Scottrade Center with good feelings — and plenty of motivation — in March.

Check Paul Suellentrop's Shocker blog at blogs.kansas.com/shockwaves. Reach him at 316-269-6760 or psuellentrop@wichitaeagle.com.

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