With all due respect to Indiana, North Carolina, Kentucky and other places with fine hoops traditions, Kansas truly is the state of the art of basketball this March, with three men’s and two women’s teams in the NCAA tournaments for the second year in a row.
All three of the state’s Division I men’s teams again made the cut – in sharp contrast to Texas, which saw none of its 21 schools reach the men’s tournament for the first time since 1977. (Utah, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, West Virginia, Connecticut and New Jersey also were shut out.) Only California, North Carolina and Pennsylvania have more men’s teams than Kansas in the tournament, at five each.
No. 1 seed University of Kansas will extend its historic streak of NCAA Tournament appearances to 24 straight, including an amazing 10 under coach Bill Self. The fourth-seeded Kansas State University men’s team won its fifth NCAA bid in the past six seasons and its first with coach Bruce Weber. And the 12th-seeded KU women under coach Bonnie Henrickson are returning after last year’s Sweet 16 finish.
Most notably for south-central Kansas are the twin bids for Wichita State University’s teams, including a return trip for coach Gregg Marshall’s men and the first-ever NCAA bid for the 30-year-old women’s program.
The ninth-seeded Shocker men, who play Pittsburgh Thursday in Salt Lake City, have fought hard and earned widespread respect. “This team, man, is resilient. It’s a special group,” Marshall presciently said way back in November.
The year’s impressive firsts for Jody Adams’ No. 14 seed WSU women’s team, which plays Texas A&M on Saturday, include its Missouri Valley Conference title and MVC Tournament championship. “I can finally say that these guys hate to lose more than they love to win,” Adams said last fall, accurately forecasting what was to come for her seasoned, driven team.
In addition, the K-State women play Thursday in the WNIT.
So best wishes are in order across the board: Go, Shockers, Wildcats and Jayhawks.
And while we’re counting our points of basketball pride, congratulations are due the Wichita South High School girls, who recently defeated two-time defending champ Wichita Heights to capture South’s first state title since 1978.
There is some tough play ahead, and inevitably some disappointment. But for the teamwork they’ve exhibited and the pride they’ve inspired, the standout student athletes at all these schools can take their bows right now.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman