Wichita State’s basketball players have been answering many of the same questions repeatedly from a small group of national writers who have latched onto the Shockers’ unlikely run to the Final Four.
The most-asked question from writers and television reporters who aren’t as familiar with WSU has been "What does ’play angry’ mean?”
The Shockers are likely to hear that question even more this week, along with many others they’ve likely already addressed, because the national media has nowhere else to go. No other regional sites to attend, no other games to see.
WSU will likely be the biggest story leading up to Atlanta because the plights of Syracuse, Michigan and Duke have played out on a larger scale this season while the Shockers have gotten little national run.
WSU is ready for the attention, even though the players have neither embraced nor backed away from the attention they’ve received the last two weeks.
"We’re all new to this," WSU junior forward Cleanthony Early said. "I don’t know if we’re ready — I think we’re ready, and we’re going to prepare ourselves to become ready. It’s just a part of the dream. We’ve been at the bottom and we’re trying to work our way up. Each stage that we’ve been through we’ve gotten more attention, so we’ve just got to learn to prepare ourselves for it."
Before WSU can resign itself to the potentially overwhelming press it will receive this week, the Shockers have to let their own feeling sink in. Immediately after their 70-66 win over Ohio State in the West Regional final on Saturday, not all of the players knew how to react.
Maybe experience was a factor. Malcolm Armstead was the most stoic Shocker, reiterating his weeklong point that he saw WSU as a possible Final Four contender before the season began. The younger players needed a deep breath and time to allow their accomplishments to resonate emotionally.
"I’ve been pinching myself and still can’t wake up," freshman guard Fred VanVleet said. "It’s been a hell of a ride, but we still have games to play. This is crazy. We’ve been grinding all year and all week, and at this point it’s a relief to know that all that work paid off."
WSU coach Gregg Marshall is certain to be a major topic among pundits this week, as well. In Los Angeles, Marshall was often asked about his potential interest in the UCLA job, which was ultimately filled Saturday by New Mexico’s Steve Alford, but reporters will likely take a different approach heading into WSU’s semifinal game.
Just as the Shockers are the outlier among teams in the Final Four, Marshall is the coach of least experience, at least in terms of prior postseason accomplishments. Marshall’s one previous NCAA Tournament win came in 2007 with Winthrop after six losses.
With former national champions Rick Pitino and Jim Boeheim — along with eight-time tourney participant John Beilein — also in the Final Four, Marshall will be weighed against some of the best in his profession.
"He’s a great coach," Early said. "I don’t know those guys, but I know their reputation and they’re great coaches. Hopefully he can continue to build his reputation up to that level. I’m completely supportive of him, that’s why I decided to come to this program."
Marshall will still probably be asked about his level of interest in other positions and the reasons for his insistence that he is happy in Wichita.
The major story isn’t Marshall’s exploits, but the ride he has taken the Shockers on during the postseason, his fifth straight with WSU. The Shockers will likely be asked endlessly about playing angry and Cinderella and defying expectations, but that comes with the territory.
"We’re ready for that," WSU senior forward Carl Hall said. "I think we’re ready for anything. We’ve got a team full of fighters and I don’t think we’re done yet. Two more games."