Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall is growing accustomed to being center stage at the Final Four. He just wishes his team was with him this time around.
After leading the Shockers to the national semifinals a year ago, Marshall deftly guided them through a perfect regular season, earning a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. While they were done in by Kentucky in the third round, by then the votes had already been tabulated.
Marshall was the runaway winner of the AP coach of the year award.
He accepted his hardware during a news conference Thursday at AT&T Stadium, where Kentucky will play Wisconsin and UConn will meet Florida in the national semifinals Saturday night.
“I’m truly honored,” Marshall said. “It’s amazing what our young guys and our program were able to accomplish this year, with the tremendous win streak and the run they took us all on. I’ve been coaching for a long time, but when you have a group like this, they make it really special.”
On Wednesday, Marshall was chosen coach of the year by the National Association of Basketball coaches; he was also chosen coach of the year by the United States Basketball Writers Association and CBS Sports.com.
Creighton star Doug McDermott was a near-unanimous pick as the AP player of the year after a senior season that left him the fifth-leading scorer in Division I history. McDermott received all but one vote from the 65-member panel that votes for the Top 25. Russ Smith of Louisville received the only dissenting vote.
“This is a huge honor,” said McDermott, who was joined at the news conference by his father, Creighton coach Greg McDermott, along with his mother and sister.
The award ceremony was also a reunion for Marshall and McDermott, who became familiar with each other when Wichita State and Creighton tussled for Missouri Valley supremacy.
But when the Bluejays skipped to the Big East, it cleared the way for Marshall’s Shockers to romp through a weakened league and have one of the finest seasons in Division I history.
Wichita State won its first 35 games, a record for a men’s major college program, and became the first team to enter the NCAA tournament with a perfect record since UNLV in 1991. With his motto of “play angry,” the Shockers embodied the intense nature of their blue-collar coach, who came up through tiny schools such as Randolph-Macon to reach the pinnacle of his sport.
Along the way, the Shockers captured their first Missouri Valley tournament title since 1987 and landed forward Cleanthony Early and point guard Fred VanVleet on the AP’s All-America teams.
“I tell you what, they made it easy to coach,” Marshall told AP. “You enjoy going to work every single day. Even with the loss to Kentucky, they never wavered. They wanted to be a special group, and they wanted to do things that have never been done.”
That loss to the Wildcats still stings, though. The heavyweights from the SEC were given a No. 8 seed in the NCAA tournament, meaning Wichita State had to face them in the opening weekend, and the two teams waged a thrilling game that came down to VanVleet’s missed shot at the buzzer.
“Ultimately, some point down the road, we'll look back on this season, and look back fondly,” Marshall said, “but at this point, gosh, I wish we were still playing.”
Marshall received 44 votes for coach of the year. Tony Bennett of Virginia got 13, followed by Florida’s Billy Donovan with six and Michigan’s John Beilein and SMU’s Larry Brown with one each.
“I knew Doug was going to be player of the year much sooner than I thought I could be coach of the year,” Marshall said. “He can certainly play on any level and he proved that this year.”
Early dunked out — Wichita State's Cleanthony Early failed to make it out of the first round of the College Slam Dunk contest on Thursday at SMU's Moody Coliseum in Dallas.
Early tried to jump over four people and clipped one of them with his foot on his first attempt. He missed the dunk and wiped out. He regrouped quickly and dunked over the group, drawing a large cheer, but not enough points to advance out of the eight-person group. He finished with 43.4 points from judges and Twitter voting.
Bradley's Walt Lemon Jr. advanced to the semifinals.
Eastern Kentucky's Marcus Lewis defeated Baylor's Cory Jefferson to win the title.