Bob Lutz: Gregg Marshall the right guy to try to keep Shockers atop mountain

09/24/2013 6:32 PM

09/25/2013 9:20 AM

Gregg Marshall took Wichita State to college basketball’s Final Four almost six months ago and this week got a big fat raise to $1.6 million, which will grow to $1.75 million in April.

He has a rollover contract that runs through 2020 and there isn’t a Shocker basketball fan alive who doesn’t want Marshall around long after that. This is a marriage made in heaven because Marshall is just as thrilled to be in Wichita as Wichita State fans are to have him.

He’s proven himself as a great coach. I think he’s the best in Shocker history.

But Marshall is now carrying a suitcase — no, not to leave town — that he’s never carried before. And inside is the weight of expectations, up a ton or two.

Marshall and the Shockers have been to a Final Four. They pushed eventual national champion Louisville to the final seconds, almost pulling the upset. They made the run of all runs, beating Gonzaga and Ohio State to get to Atlanta.

If Marshall saw a ceiling when he arrived at Wichita State seven years ago, his chin is pushing right up against it now. Where does WSU go from here? And what does a fan base that’s still shaking, rattling and rolling from an appearance in the Final Four expect?

Interesting questions as we move forward, even though there might not be any forward left to move toward.

The Shockers went 48 years between Final Four appearances. And nobody of sound mind is suggesting that a program like Wichita State be judged on Final Four appearances.

But the onus is on Marshall and his team now to not fall back too much. People will understand if the Shockers lose a first-round NCAA Tournament game. They’ll understand if WSU doesn’t make the tournament now and again.

The reason Marshall is the right coach for this time and this salary is because he gets it. And he relishes the expectations of a fan base that isn’t used to having many.

Marshall has a tried-and-true way of coaching. His Shocker teams have gone up, up, up, up during his years here. And as we all know, there’s only so much “up” up there. Eventually, you have to come down. That doesn’t mean you can’t go up again, but you can’t stay up forever.

WSU probably won’t get to the Final Four in 2014. Don’t shoot the messenger. Butler did get to consecutive national championship games a few years back, but that’s hardly the norm. When a team like Wichita State makes it to the top of the mountain, it generally doesn’t take long to slip.

So what’s reasonable to expect?

The Shockers will be a heavy favorite to win the Missouri Valley Conference, sans Creighton and without another defined contender. Wichita State could well break through and win the conference tournament in St. Louis in March, something it hasn’t done in 26 years. The Shockers will ranked among the top 25 teams in the preseason polls, presumably, and with a group of talented players returning looks like almost a cinch to make the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year, perhaps again with an attractive seeding of six or better.

And if Wichita State does all of that, Marshall will have shown once again what a terrific coach he is. Because once a team is in the NCAA Tournament, dice start to roll. It becomes all about matchups, seeding and geography. And about a team finding another gear, which is what happened to Wichita State last season.

Remember how concerned fans were after the Valley tournament? Wichita State was a 300-1 longshot to win the NCAA Tournament after the 68-team field was announced last season, according to one oddsmaker. Only 12 teams had longer odds.

But the Shockers played their best basketball just after playing some of their worst. And Marshall, a master of utilizing a roster, pulled all the right strings.

Wichita State became a tantalizing national story. And its coach was finally given the kudos he has long deserved, from his days at Winthrop.

Now, though, Gregg Marshall is a national name. And Wichita State basketball is a national brand. The Shockers might have been able to catch a team or two by surprise last season, but there are no more wool to be pulled over anyone’s eyes.

Marshall will continue to look for ways to upgrade Wichita State’s schedule. He’ll continue to recruit players who fit his system, in which selfishness dies quickly. He will be raking in a whole lot of money this season, and for as long as he stays at WSU. It’s is well-deserved cash for a coach who can’t see much above him now.

We always knew Marshall was taking the Shockers places. The trick now is staying, at least in the neighborhood.

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