You can imagine that Wichita State players and their fans are excited to see the Final Four banner drop before Monday’s game. You can also imagine how excited the opponent might be to ruin that celebration.
Former Shocker Ryan Martin certainly does. On Nov. 18, 2006, the Shockers waited in the locker room while George Mason raised its Final Four banner in a raucous, Bon Jovi, Living on a Prayer-filled pregame affair. That Mason won the banner by going through the Shockers the previous March added to the motivation.
“That really got us fired up and ready to play that day,” remembers Martin, who now coaches high school basketball in Minneapolis, Minn. “I just know we wanted to win the game really badly.”
Mason won the pregame. WSU won the game 72-66.
Seven years later, 16th-ranked WSU (1-0) plans the big reveal for the biggest tribute to last season. Western Kentucky (0-0) will be the team in the locker room scheming to grab some national attention for spoiling the big moment.
“Coach (Gregg Marshall) already described that game as a dogfight,” WSU guard Nick Wiggins said. “I’ve heard they’ve been getting ready for us since October.”
WSU is preparing on and off the court. Mindful of the late start, Marshall started reminding fans to use their tickets or find someone who will a month ago. Fans will receive an energy drink upon entrance. If asked, Marshall might write your boss or teacher a note for Tuesday.
“Bring your caffeine pills,” WSU guard Ron Baker said.
Western Kentucky is one of three home games that might escape national notice while profiling as dangerous for the Shockers. WKU, Oral Roberts and Davidson are good programs with successful histories and all would like a bump in profile by beating the heavily hyped Shockers.
“That’s a good basketball team coming in,” Marshall said after Saturday’s win over Emporia State. “We’ve already watched some film. I don’t usually do that, but with the way these games shook out, we’ve already been working on Western Kentucky in practice.”
The Hilltoppers, who open the season on Monday, are the Sun Belt Conference favorite, according to the coaches poll. They return four starters and 72 percent of their scoring from a team that went 20-16 and won the conference tournament to advance to the NCAAs for a second straight year. Junior guard T.J. Price earned a spot on the Sun Belt’s preseason team with forward George Fant on second team.
“Price is a good scorer, kind of Tekele Cotton, real strong guy that drives it and shoots it,” Marshall said.
Hilltoppers guard Brandon Harris played 10 minutes in an exhibition game on Nov. 2 before suffering a sprained foot. He did not practice last week, according to the Daily News of Bowling Green, and coach Ray Harper called him questionable. Freshman walk-on Brandon Price is a possible replacement if Harris can’t play. Price scored 15 points in the exhibition win over Campbellsville (Ky.)