Wichita State Shockers

April 8, 2011

Wichita State Shockers: Two weeks in which memories were made

Five Wichita State seniors ended their college basketball careers by cutting down a net in Madison Square Garden.

Five Wichita State seniors ended their college basketball careers by cutting down a net in Madison Square Garden.

Cut away all the frustation and disappointment from the 2010-11 season, and that scene stands alone. If none of them picks up a basketball again, they went out with a hard-to-beat moment in New York.

"I'm never going to forget it," senior J.T. Durley said.

Neither will anybody else who follows the Shockers.

Jubilation. Redemption. Satisfaction. From March 16 to March 31, the Shockers covered them all in winning the National Invitation Tournament. A season that appeared to be a letdown on March 5 turned into a city celebration on April 1 when around 5,000 fans came to Koch Arena to welcome home its champs.

For all its success, the history of WSU basketball is filled with "what if" moments that always stood in the way. What if Ernie Moore plays in the 1964 NCAA Tournament? What if Dave Stallworth and Nate Bowman remain eligible for the 1965 Final Four? What if NCAA probation didn't bench the 1982 and 1983 teams?

The 2010-11 Shockers gave its fans closure. They didn't want the NIT invite, to be sure. Once the NCAA Tournament dream died, the Shockers treated the NIT as a golden ticket. Five victories later, they didn't need to answer any "what ifs" about this tournament.

"We, as a team, have gone through a roller-coaster this year," senior Graham Hatch said. "To be in this opportunity and winning such an amazing tournament as the NIT, in this atmosphere, I couldn't have imagined it. I'm so proud of this team and the way we have come back from these disappointments."

The fouth-seeded Shockers won it, and they didn't leave any room for doubters. They beat two No. 1 seeds and a No. 2, won a road game and made two opponents look overmatched.

Anybody labeling Wichita State a "mid-major" looks out-of-touch, as coach Gregg Marshall pointed out several times.

"A lot of major programs would like to have these guys," he said. "There's not a whole lot mid-major about these guys."

WSU (29-8, 14-4 Missouri Valley Conference) made the most of the NIT. What that means for the future is unclear. The Shockers return five of their top six scorers and six players who started a game or more. They benefited from three weeks of practice and five games against good competition.

Junior center Garrett Stutz must improve from a backup to a 25-minute-a-game starter next season. His 24-point, 11-rebound performance against Washington State again demonstrated his potential.

WSU's strength shifts from the frontcourt to the backcourt with the return of guards Toure Murry, David Kyles, Joe Ragland and Demetric Williams. All four played well in the NIT by reducing turnovers and working within the offense to produce big numbers. They should start next season knowing their roles and in position to carry the Shockers while the big men grow.

WSU strengthened its already deep love affair with its fans, who embraced the NIT more than most. The full house at Koch Arena for the quarterfinal win over the College of Charleston stood in contrast to empty seats at most arenas. Hundreds traveled to New York.

The five NIT games, all on ESPN or ESPN2, showed off WSU's unselfish up-tempo style. Four of the victories came against teams from power conferences — the kind of schools that rarely venture into Koch Arena.

The Shocker coaches long ago proved they can recruit good talent. All of those developments are good advertisements for a basketball program. Does winning the NIT open a new door or two? Was anybody watching?

"The proof there will be how we recruit and who's paying attention," Marshall said. "We'll know that in two or three years."

Koch Arena made a lasting impression on ESPN's Fran Fraschilla, who broadcast the quarterfinal game.

"That particular night, Koch Arena was one of the most rabid environments I've ever been a part of," he said. "If not the most rabid, certainly in the top three."

That is something Marshall and his assistants can continue to sell.

"Anyone that has seen our venue, that hadn't seen it prior, has to be impressed," Marshall said.

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