ST. LOUIS — Grabbing a rebound with one hand may seem like a small infraction, perhaps not an infraction at all. That is wrong, in the basketball book of Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall, and his players know. They know he will notice. They know he will say something.
Rebounds are to be grabbed with two hands, the better to secure the ball and keep it from prying opponents. It is March. WSU is unbeaten and ranked second in the nation. Yet this is no time to start grabbing rebounds with one hand and Marshall cannot let those kind of plays go without comment. That insistence on doing things the right way is one of the reasons Marshall joined an exclusive club of Missouri Valley Conference men’s basketball coaches Thursday.
Marshall, 51, won his third straight MVC Coach of the Year award at the MVC’s tournament luncheon. On the strength of an unbeaten season, he joined Oklahoma State’s Henry Iba and Drake’s Maury John as the only men to win Coach of the Year three or more times.
Marshall coaches three All-MVC players and he is still coaching them even as the season is already a smashing success. Senior Cleanthony Early appreciates the attention, knowing some coaches may lack the passion to continue pushing him in the final days of a standout career.
“It shows that he cares and it also shows that he thinks I can be really, really good,” Early said. “One-handed rebounds, when I don’t check out, when I didn’t jump toward the ball. That’s attention to detail, the little things that might add up.”
Guard Ron Baker is valued for his shooting ability. He plays good defense and runs the offense when starter Fred VanVleet sits. As a sophomore, he is an All-MVC piece of the present and future. Like Early, he is not immune from coaching. Marshall wants Baker to make the easy play instead of turning the game into something difficult, perhaps take an open shot instead of driving into the lane where a turnover may await.
“He values the little things,” Baker said. “Any little thing that Coach harps about is going to make you a better player, if you can do it the way he wants you to do it.”
Marshall received 39 of a possible 40 first-place votes. The 40th was a third-place vote for Marshall. Voting was done by coaches, sports information directors and two media members from each Valley city. Unlike all-conference voting, voters could vote for the coach of the school they represent.
“It’s amazing what great players can do for a coaching staff,” Marshall said. “My players, my staff have done an unbelievable job.”
No. 2 Wichita State (31-0, 18-0 MVC) won the conference by six games over second-place Indiana State. Oklahoma went 18-0 in 1927-28, the only other team to do so, and the six-game margin matches Bradley’s in 1986 as the largest in conference history.
“Without any doubt, they are one of the handful of elite teams in the country,” Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson said. “Anytime we’ve got somebody doing what Wichita is doing this year, it’s terrific for all of us. They deserve a ton of credit.”
While the Shockers enjoy an edge in physical ability and depth over their MVC rivals, they don’t rely on talent alone. Even other coaches can admire that trait.
“They have great pride defensively and great pride rebounding the basketball,” Drake coach Ray Giacoletti said. “To me, that’s what separates them from other teams across the country.”
Iba was named the MVC’s first Coach of the Year in 1949 and added to his collection in 1951 and 1953. John won the award outright in 1964, 1968 and 1970. He shared it with Tulsa’s Ken Hayes in 1969.
Marshall is the first Shocker coach to win the honor more than once. Ralph Miller (1954), Gary Thompson (1965), Eddie Fogler (1987) and Mark Turgeon (2006) also earned the award.
Marshall is 170-70 in seven seasons at WSU and 364-153 in 16 seasons as a head coach at WSU and Winthrop. He coached the Shockers to a school-record win total three times, including this season. WSU’s stretch of five consecutive 20-win seasons is the program’s longest and it will make three straight appearances in the NCAA Tournament for the first time.
WSU is already overflowing with postseason honors. Sophomore guard Fred VanVleet was named Player of the Year on Tuesday and teammates Cleanthony Early and Ron Baker joined him on the All-MVC team. Tekele Cotton was named Defensive MVP and VanVleet was voted team captain of the Most-Improved Team.
The top-seeded Shockers play either Drake or Evansville at 12:05 p.m. Friday on FSKC in the quarterfinals of the MVC Tournament at the Scottrade Center.