Wichita State played in two BracketBusters games that launched teams to the Final Four.
If you believe Sports Illustrated writer Seth Davis, this year is WSU’s turn. In the latest edition, he picks the 24th-ranked Shockers to join Kentucky, Michigan State and Syracuse in New Orleans for the Final Four.
None of those other teams need a BracketBusters game to make the NCAA Tournament, and neither do the Shockers. Saturday’s game at Davidson is different than the 2010 trip to Utah State or last season’s game against Virginia Commonwealth.
The Shockers need a win to improve their chances of winning games in the NCAA Tournament. They are playing for seeding, not inclusion.
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“It’s a better feeling, but we still want to accomplish what our chant has been all year: ‘Road warriors,’ ” WSU guard Joe Ragland said.
WSU (23-4) plays at Davidson (20-6) in its ninth BracketBusters appearance. The series has produced memorable games against good teams, most notably George Mason, on its way to the 2006 Final Four, and VCU, on its way to last season’s Final Four.
The loss to George Mason didn’t hurt WSU’s NCAA resume, but in 2010 and 2011, the Shockers needed BracketBusters wins and lost at Utah State and a heartbreaker to VCU on their way to the NIT.
Saturday’s game gives WSU a chance to shine its NCAA resume with a road win against a team leading the Southern Conference and with a power rating (RPI) of 70. WSU, leading the MVC and boasting an RPI of 16, is slotted as high as a No. 4 seed in bracket projections.
“It just feels like another game we’ve got to go win with our road mentality,” junior guard Demetric Williams said.
Davidson coach Bob McKillop knows something about advancing in the NCAA Tournament from a low-profile conference. His Wildcats played Kansas in the 2008 Elite Eight with star Stephen Curry. He watched similar stories unfold at George Mason, Butler and VCU. WSU belongs in that conversation, in his mind.
“This is a team that is equally as dangerous because of their experience, their talent, their coaching and their toughness,” he said.
WSU is 8-1 on the road and 7-3 against teams ranked in the top 100 of the RPI. To add another win to that list, it must handle Davidson’s motion offense. The Wildcats lead the Southern Conference in scoring (78.8 points) and rank second in shooting percentage (44.8) and fourth from three-point range (35.4) in the 12-team conference.
“We can score in and we can score out,” McKillop said. “We can score in the halfcourt and we can score in transition.”
Five Wildcats average in double figures, led by sophomore forward De’Mon Brooks at 15.7 points. Brooks makes 53.2 percent of his shots and 39.5 percent of his threes. He presents another challenge for WSU senior Ben Smith, coming off sterling defensive efforts against Creighton’s Doug McDermott and Missouri State’s Kyle Weems.
“He can shoot the three very well, and he can put it on the floor,” McKillop said. “He’s a wonderful kid to coach and he competes, so he’s a pretty important part of our team.”
WSU gets an edge in experience with its four senior starters. Davidson starts three juniors and two sophomores. McKillop recognizes how last season’s NIT title helped the Shockers build this season.
“People don’t understand how valuable that experience is, winning that many games against good competition on a national stage,” he said. “That intangible is ever present.”
Another Marshall milestone — Coach Gregg Marshall can win No. 300 Saturday with many long-distance fans in attendance. He won 194 games at Winthrop from 1998-2007 before coming to WSU. Winthrop, located in Rock Hill, S.C., is about 50 miles from Davidson.
Marshall’s tickets list reached 73 on Friday.
“I’ve got a lot of family and friends who will be at this game,” he said. “It will be nice to get it out of the way. We’ve got a very nice bottle of wine, maybe some champagne. I don’t know if it will make it on the charter, but we’ll drink it when we get back if we don’t.”
Marshall won his 100th game at WSU earlier this season, joining Ralph Miller, Gene Smithson and Mark Turgeon on that list.