Every news conference is an opportunity for Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall to do a mic drop right on the collective heads of the power-five and the NCAA Tournament selection committee.
He relishes the role of spokesman for the little guy and irritant to the powerful. If you don’t ask the question, he will speak on the topic, without a prompt. He speaks for the fans of schools such as Wichita State, Dayton, Gonzaga, Rhode Island and Middle Tennessee State, who fear a cut from tournament access that turns their teams into second-class citizens.
For a coach who played at Randolph-Macon and coached at places such as Belmont Abbey, College of Charleston and Winthrop, that role is ingrained.
“I’ve been doing this for 32 years,” he said. “Wichita State is the highest level I’ve ever coached.”
So this week he’s spoken out about his discontent with WSU’s No. 10 seed, unworthy power-five schools, scheduling problems and what he suspects is an effort to limit his type of schools by pitting them against each other.
“Everybody sees it,” Marshall said Saturday. “Everybody knows it. They just try to weed us out, if you will.”
Marshall also speaks for those who see schools from the low-profile conferences as essential to the spirit of March Madness. He, like many, views first-round matchups such as WSU-Dayton, Butler-Winthrop and St. Mary’s-VCU as part of the problem.
“I don’t know why you would want to exclude that or diminish that in any way,” he said. “I was watching television before I came to practice today, and it was either on CBS or ESPN … but the whole thing was talking about the tournament, first round, both days. And the whole thing was about Middle Tennessee, Rhode Island, our game, and that’s what was interesting.”
Dayton coach Archie Miller joined in Friday by expressing concerns about scheduling.
“It could become almost impossible because as power-conference teams continue to do their leagues and look at their leagues, they’re going to play 20 games in a conference season,” he said.
Kentucky coach John Calipari can sympathize when he reflects on his time at Massachusetts and Memphis, schools that faced similar challenges. He sees the rule allowing players who graduate freedom to transfer without sitting a year as a detriment for parity.
“The reality of it is that’s the issue, and I wish we could deal with it,” he said. “Guys are losing jobs because kids are leaving and going to a major school. The fifth-year transfer has changed and made it tough for some of those schools that are building.”
Change of colors – The recruiting territories for Wichita State and Kentucky rarely intersect. But the Wildcats have two players once courted by WSU.
Senior Mychal Mulder switched his commitment to Kentucky in April 2015 after pledging to the Shockers out of Vincennes (Ind.) College, a two-year program. Sophomore Isaac Humphries, a 7-footer from Australia, took an unofficial visit to WSU.
Mulder was closer to becoming a Shocker. Identified by WSU coaches as a shooting guard candidate to play alongside Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker, Mulder was set to follow another former Vincennes player, Darius Carter, to Wichita.
But Vincennes coach Todd Franklin had a rule prohibiting players from signing in the fall of their sophomore season. By the time spring rolled around, Kentucky coach John Calipari had joined the pursuit of Mulder.
“There were things that appealed to me, but obviously I’m in this locker room now and I’m here for a reason I feel like,” said Mulder, a Windsor, Ontario, native who averages 5.1 points. “I feel like the recruiting process was a great experience for me. And I was fortunate enough to have good people around me at Vincennes.”
Humphries, who averages 2.7 points for the Wildcats as a reserve, enjoyed his recruitment by WSU coach Gregg Marshall and assistant Greg Heiar. But after reclassifying and playing his final prep season at the La Lumiere School in La Porte, Ind., Humphries joined the Wildcats.
“The facilities were great, the coaches were great,” Humphries said of WSU. “I guess at the end of the day Kentucky was where I wanted to be.
“GH and Coach Marshall, they’re really good people. I really enjoyed their company. I was really grateful for the time they gave me.”
Big Bam — Wichita State center Shaq Morris played 14 minutes in Friday’s 64-58 win over Dayton.
Foul trouble, largely absent during WSU’s 16-game win streak, limited Morris. The Shockers survived. They can’t afford a repeat against Kentucky and freshman center Bam Adebayo (6-foot-10, 260 pounds). He grabbed 18 rebounds and scored 15 points in Friday’s 79-70 win over Northern Kentucky.
“He’s a mountain of a man,” Marshall said. “He likes to jump higher than anybody on the court and dunk it through the basket. You can’t let him do that.”
Morris, two inches shorter, hurt the Shockers with fouls away from the basket on Friday, too often gambling for steals. Against Kentucky, his task will be to stay solid.
“You’ve got to keep a body on him, and you’ve got to box him out and put some doubt in his mind when he gets it low in the post, what’s going to happen next,” Marshall said. “Shaq’s got to be smart, and he’s a little older and more mature, hopefully, and he can make him have to make some decisions how to guard us.”
The Shockers faced a parade of big men in last season’s NCAA Tournament. Their defense and hustle turned players such as Vanderbilt’s Damian Jones and Arizona’s Kaleb Tarczewski into non-factors. Perhaps that’s why they expressed confidence about their ability to play with Adebayo.
“We have a three-headed monster at (center),” Marshall said. “So we're going to keep those guys fresh. Bam, I'm sure he's in great shape, but he's going to need to be in great shape tomorrow.”
All alone in first — Wichita State faced Kentucky in 2014 with a 35-game win streak.
In 2017, the Shockers take a 16-game win streak into Sunday. After losses by Vermont, Princeton and SMU, it’s the longest in the nation.
Kentucky’s 12-game streak is No. 2.
Hello again – If Sunday’s matchup against Kentucky feels a little extra personal for WSU sophomore Markis McDuffie, well, it is.
McDuffie, a product of basketball powerhouse St. Anthony (N.J.), and the Friars finished second in New Jersey’s Non-Public B division three consecutive years to Roselle Catholic. The leader of St. Anthony’s nemesis was Kentucky sophomore guard Isaiah Briscoe.
“I remember he beat us three times in a row,” McDuffie said. “It kind of sucked.”
McDuffie, who averaged 14.4 points as a senior, had nine points and five rebounds in his final matchup against Roselle Catholic. St. Anthony lost 56-52.
“He was part of two of them,” McDuffie said. “I just remember them beating us, heartbreaking losses. Hopefully, I’m able to get him back tomorrow.”
WSU freshman Austin Reaves also has a high school connection with Kentucky freshman Malik Monk. The first of Reaves’ three Arkansas Class 2A titles came during his freshman season at Cedar Ridge against Monk and East Poinsett County.
“He was crazy athletic and could shoot the three,” Reaves said. “We didn’t have anybody who could match his athleticism.”
Worth noting — Wichita State is 18-14 in 14 NCAA Tournament appearances. Its streak of five advancements to the second round is tied with Oregon for the longest active streak. It trails Kansas (11), Gonzaga (nine) and North Carolina (seven) in moving to the round of 32. … Kentucky is 122-49 in its 56 NCAA appearances (No. 57, in 1988, was vacated). … Sunday’s game marks the second time for 30-win teams to meet during the NCAA Tournament’s first weekend. In 2008, Tennessee (30-4) defeated Butler (30-3) in the second round. Sunday night, Cincinnati-UCLA will mark the third time for 30-win teams to meet.
Wichita State vs. Kentucky
- When: About 1:40 p.m. Sunday
- Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis
- Records: WSU 31-4, UK 30-5
- Radio: 103.7-FM
- TV: KWCH