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SPECIAL: WICHITA STATE IN THE FINAL FOUR New to the Shocker bandwagon? Here’s what you need to know

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, April 5, 2013, at 2:47 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, March 20, 2014, at 6:22 p.m.

Ron Baker talks about WSU's Final Four practices

Click here to see the video in full screen or to e-mail to a friend.

— It is OK to admit you turned down tickets for that Howard game in November. We understand you lost faith during the three-game losing streak and now regret your lack of confidence. Hey, the losses to Creighton convinced a lot of people that Wichita State’s run in March loomed as short and unsatisfying.

We even understand if you spent the winter planning on following Kansas or Kansas State deep into the NCAA Tournament.

Do better next season. You know what you missed — the building of a special event.

This is no time for regrets, however. The Shockers are in the Final Four and there is time to catch up and act like you jumped on board in November.

For those who need a refresher course:

•  The season started with modest expectations from most observers. Missouri Valley Conference coaches, media members and sports information directors picked WSU fourth in the preseason poll. The Shockers — and this is important to remember — lost five seniors from the 2012 team. You don’t need to know their names. Just know they rebuilt the program and their absence figured to hurt.

It did not take long for the current Shockers — nine of them new to a WSU uniform — to demonstrate the folly of that prediction. WSU won at Virginia Commonwealth in early November, a significant win that set its NCAA at-large resume apart. It blistered DePaul and Iowa in Mexico later that month. It bounced back from a loss at Tennessee with a win over Southern Mississippi at Intrust Bank Arena to end the non-conference schedule 11-1.

•  Injuries played a major role in shaping this season. Four Shocker starters missed multiple games. Forward Evan Wessel broke his right pinky finger in December and missed the rest of the season. Guard Ron Baker missed 21 games with a stress fracture in his left foot before returning in March. Center Carl Hall missed seven games with a broken right thumb. A sprained right ankle cost center Ehimen Orukpe three games.

•  The Shockers started MVC play 4-0, highlighted by a 66-41 rout of Northern Iowa in the opener. The Shockers demolished the Panthers, expected to be an MVC contender, with a dominating defense. Then WSU forward Cleanthony Early scored 39 points in an 82-76 win over Southern Illinois.

•  WSU’s roughest stretch came in late January and early February, when it lost to Indiana State, Northern Iowa and Southern Illinois. The Shockers lost their devotion to defense and hustle, for a moment, and it cost them. A pep talk from former Shockers Antoine Carr and Xavier McDaniel before a game against Missouri State helped get them playing angry and that slogan took center-stage in March. Coach Gregg Marshall put the season on his four seniors and they rededicated the season to defense.

•  Road wins at Illinois State (in the famous Jackie Chan game) and Indiana State provided another turning point. The Shockers desperately needed at least a split on that road trip. They won both, helped by an eight-points-in-40-seconds miracle at Illinois State.

•  Guard Malcolm Armstead is WSU’s most important player. He runs the offense, flusters opponents on defense and plays with a fearlessness his teammates thrive on. His presence allowed coaches to bring freshman guard Fred VanVleet along slowly and VanVleet is peaking in March. Armstead starting talking about the Final Four last summer. Add prophet to his list of skills.

•  Coaches call Hall the team’s heartbeat. He is WSU’s top inside scorer and rebounder. He is blocking more shots than any other player in the NCAA Tournament. Hall can set the tone for a game when he beat other big men for position and scores inside. He played most of the season with dreadlocks before cutting them off before the tournament, a move that surprised coaches and teammates. Don’t worry, the dreadlocks are safe with his mother in Cochran, Ga.

•  Baker’s return gave WSU’s offense new life. He is shooting 40 percent from three-point range in the NCAA Tournament and his 10 assists rank second on the team. Just as important, his movement without the ball and screening help the offense flow. He is the toast of Scott City, which threw a Ron Baker Day after WSU beat No. 1 Gonzaga.

•  The ninth-seeded Shockers defeated eighth-seeded Pittsburgh, top-seeded Gonzaga, 13th-seeded La Salle and second-seeded Ohio State to advance to the Final Four. In all four games, they built significant leads early. The only fluky performance needed was their 14-of-28 accuracy from three-point range against Gonzaga. Don’t worry, defense still rules. WSU is holding opponents to 34.3 percent shooting in the NCAAs.

Now — no matter your previous level of Shocker interest — you are ready. Just remember to take those Drake tickets next season. You never know what might happen next.

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