Wichita State continues its rampage through the Missouri Valley Conference, and the question becomes whether or not the Shockers have destroyed the confidence of the rest of the nine basketball teams.
Game after game the Shockers romp, as they did during Sunday afternoon’s 74-40 win over Drake at Koch Arena. That’s not a misprint — Drake scored 40 points and WSU hasn’t allowed more than 60 in a game in more than a month.
WSU has won an NIT, been to a Final Four and soared to 35-0 while the rest of the league has plopped itself down at the kids table. Northern Iowa, which used a late Nate Buss three-pointer to avoid an upset Sunday at Illinois State, could be a threat to the Shockers’ crown this season — we’ll find out more next Saturday when WSU and UNI meet in Cedar Falls — but elsewhere, white towels are being waved.
Playing Wichita State is something you go through, like a root canal. In a week, after you’ve played someone like Bradley or Drake, you feel better.
But the Shockers always loom. Their presence is always felt.
They have a relentless coach who doesn’t hesitate pulling a couple of freshmen off the court in the final minutes of a blowout because they weren’t doing what they were supposed to do.
A coach willing to use a comment made by Drake coach Ray Giacoletti after an 81-45 loss at Illinois State on Jan. 7 and turn it into World War III for his players.
“Dan’s team played with great energy,” Giacoletti said of the Redbirds and coach Dan Muller after that one-sided loss, according to the Bloomington (Ill.) Pantagraph. “They’re missing three really good players, but I think they’re more talented than Wichita State at each position 1 through 12.”
Some coaches might let something like that go. Marshall cooked it up, added spice and fed it to his ravenous team of guard dogs.
Giacoletti, meanwhile, tried to step aside from any controversy during his post-game news conference Sunday. He referenced a comment he made after another loss to Illinois State last week, this one in Des Moines, in which he said the Redbirds were as athletic as any team in the league.
Whether Wichita State should gauge their impact based on some comments from a coach fighting for relevance is debatable.
But the Shockers are a proud group and they’re protecting a legacy now. They know the Missouri Valley Conference is theirs and that the rest of the conference is at their mercy. They don’t gloat, but they know it. They have worked hard to get where they are and they’re not going to relent.
This is a veteran team with outstanding players soon to depart, but Marshall has proven over his career that he’s an expert re-loader. Once he builds something, it stands the test of time.
WSU has won 26 straight regular-season conference games and three more in the tournament. There haven’t been a lot of competitive games mixed in.
The Shockers are creating stress throughout the conference, setting a standard that is difficult, bordering on impossible, to meet. They spend more on salaries, facilities and perks than the rest of the Valley and they have one of the best coaches in the country who has an uncanny ability to recruit good players.
Drake’s Giacoletti took a moment away from his Illinois State love fest on Sunday to throw some nice words Wichita State’s way.
“There are very few teams in the country who play as hard as Wichita State,” he said. “And that do all the little things.”
Giacoletti should probably spend less time talking about other teams. But words are only words.
Wichita State doesn’t need a spokesman or a champion for its cause. The Shockers send their own clear message with action.
There’s a mixture of panic and apathy in Peoria because of how badly things are going for Bradley. If the wheels haven’t come off at Missouri State, they’re certainly wobbling. Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson is paddling upstream. Loyola is falling to earth after a promising start. Illinois State does have talent, a point that cannot be argued. And Evansville (Marty Simmons), Indiana State (Greg Lansing) and Northern Iowa (Ben Jacobson) at least have proven coaches.
And Drake is a mess.
Giacoletti, who spent six years as an assistant at Gonzaga, said he hoped that in two seasons the Bulldogs would be able to emulate Wichita State. He pointed to having five freshman and a sophomore getting key minutes this season and to getting seven more new players next season.
Who knows how that’s going to go.
Wichita State, meanwhile, has become a national program while most of the Valley is just trying to get people next door interested.
Wichita State’s hold has to be daunting for the rest of the conference. But the Shockers won’t loosen their grip unless they’re forced to. And right now, who has that clout?