Like many others across the country, Jim Nantz, Clark Kellogg and Steve Kerr will see Wichita State play basketball up close for the first time on Saturday.
They wish that wasn’t the case.
Together, they make up the three-man crew that will call the Final Four for CBS at the Georgia Dome. As basketball experts, they know everything there is to know about Louisville, Syracuse and Michigan, but are still learning about the Shockers.
“We are going to be spending a lot of time this week finding out everything we can about Wichita State,” Nantz said during a conference call with media. “I’m excited that they are there. I love the Cinderella component at the Final Four. But they beat Gonzaga and Ohio State. They beat a one (seed) and a two (seed) to get to the Final Four. They are no fluke.”
After watching all four of their victories in the NCAA Tournament and replays of a handful of their regular-season games, Kellogg and Kerr have noticed a few things about the Shockers.
“Excellent chemistry, excellent defensively and capable enough offensively,” said Kellogg, a four-year NBA player from Ohio State who will work his fifth Final Four. “Defensively, I think they have held all four of their opponents in the mid 30s in terms of field-goal defense. I know Gregg Marshall from his days at Winthrop. He is an outstanding coach and I think this team has earned its way here, obviously, and is confident in its ability to play with and beat anybody.
“I think the Shockers are one of those teams that many of us thought had a chance to get to this point, outside of the power six conferences. I think they will show up ready to continue shocking the world. I like their team. They are tough. They are together. They are confident. They don’t really beat themselves. They have a lot of good qualities about them.”
Kerr, a five-time NBA champion over 13 seasons who’s calling his third Final Four, was impressed by the emergence of Ron Baker.
“He has been so key for them in the tournament,” Kerr said. “He just gives them another shooter, another scorer, another guy who can handle the ball a little bit. It just looks to me like an incredibly well-rounded team.”
He figured he hadn’t heard the last of Wichita State when it beat Gonzaga to reach the Sweet 16. Not just because he respects the Bulldogs, but because of how the Shockers beat them.
“I know it’s no consolation to Gonzaga, but at least Gonzaga can sit back and say we didn’t choke,” Kerr said. “They made 14 threes to beat us and they beat everybody else and now they are in the Final Four. Wichita State is for real.”
Of course, those were only their impressions from afar.
They are looking forward to seeing them from a courtside seat. But unlike fans who will be introduced to Wichita State for the first time, they are expecting more than a cute storyline.
“Their coach is dynamic,” Nantz said of Gregg Marshall. “We have had cameras in his locker room, which adds really great insight to this tournament. He has implored his team to keep at it. ‘Don’t be satisfied by what you’ve done so far.’ I can hear Gregg Marshall say that one more time. I think they are going to deliver a great fight.”