Former Shocker Antoine Carr (left) gives former coach Gene Smithson an MTXE jersey at halftime.One of the nice things about Sunday’s MTXE festivities is that it no longer feels like Wichita State’s sad attempt to stir up good memories.
If you’re a Royals fan, you can relate. Every mention of 1985 at Kauffman Stadium only serves to remind people the Royals stink since. Earlier this decade, it felt the same way at WSU. Remembering the 1980s highlighted how far the program dropped after the Smithson-Eddie Fogler time (connected by players and postseasons, certainly not styles) ended. It seemed like a painful joke to think about Antoine Carr and watch Bart Westgeest.
Mark Turgeon’s sucess and the renovation of Koch Arena changed that. Gregg Marshall gives fans plenty of reason to believe more big things are possible. Now WSU can bring back the old guys and add their excitement to a current mood of excitement.
So Sunday was nice for everybody. It introduced the MTXE era to a new generation who knows only Howard, Couisnard, Miller and Durley. It showed the old Shockers the current state of the program. It’s nice to see Gene Smithson take some bows and feel like he is a part of things at WSU.
Just six more years until the 10-year reunion for the 2006 Sweet 16 team.
At 2-1 in the MVC, the Shockers are in a five-way tie for second and over .500 in the MVC after three games for the first time since 2005-06 team. In reality, however, the Shockers are behind those four other teams, all of whom either own a road win or a win over another team expected to contend. WSU has done the minimum to get to 2-1. Missouri State owns a win over Illinois State. Illinois State has wins over WSU and SIU. SIU owns a win at Bradley. Indiana State won over Creighton and at Drake. So at the three-game marker, the Shockers haven’t done anything to separate themselves. They can change that in a big way at MSU on Wednesday.Gregg Marshall is battling a cold. Does that affect his team? It think it’s possible. The Shockers draw some of their confidence and purpose from their coach. If his energy sags, the Shockers need to generate their own. In past seasons, that was difficult to do on the road. The past two seasons, I thought the losing took a toll on Marshall and ran down his health. I’m going to give him some elderberry pills to take daily, for it is the secret of my good health and high energy. The media needs him at his best for post-game comments.Bradley coach Jim Les suspended starter Taylor Brown for the game. We don’t know why. Brown was at the game and in uniform, so it doesn’t seem like a major problem. If that’s the case, and if it was Les’ decision (not the administration’s), then he deserves some credit. It had to be tough to bench your leading rebounder and second-leading scorer during a difficult season. He probably made a good impression on his new university president, who made the trip. Les also told a funny story about Xavier McDaniel (related here) and graciously answered questions about the MTXE days. In all, Bradley was a perfect choice for opponent on this game.Dick Versace, the former Bradley coach, told some good stories before the game. He and Gene Smithson go way back. In fact, Smithson helped Versace get the Bradley job in 1978. He considered Smithson a great coach and ahead of his time for promoting his program and basketball. In those days, a lot of those duties fell on the coach. Smithson did his part. He recruited great athletes. He wore flashy suits, including one that had his nickname “Radar Gene” stitched on the pockets. Versace said Smithson told him that when he interviewed at West Virginia, he wore a blue-and-gold suit – with gold shoes. “They’ll remember me,” he told Versace.Talked to Cheese Johnson about his son, Noel. He said Noel considered Wichita State last year after he decommitted from Southern Cal. Cheese, who visits Wichita at least once a year, has known Marshall since his days at Winthrop and loves his style of play. Noel, however, wanted to be closer to his home of Atlanta. He ended up at Clemson.Marshall isn’t sure how much zone WSU will face. Bradley played more zone than it had in the past. Facing WSU’s big men, it seems like a move many teams will be forced to make. “I thought we attacked the zone pretty well,” he said. “We got some open threes. We also penetrated in and got some layups and some runners in the lane. We didn’t just go strictly three-point shot.”
Around the Valley
It’s been a strange season for Bradley, which has already lost an assistant coach and two players to injuries. These things seems to happen often to the Braves. Brown’s benching is the latest in the drama in Peoria.Rejoicing in Omaha – the Bluejays win at Evansville. I bet every coach in the MVC is thinking “That’s the win that gets them going.”Lloyd Phillips scores 21 points for Illinois State in a win over SIU. The Salukis are not the same team. They push the ball. They shoot fast. It is certainly more fun to watch.Northern Iowa won its 11th straight.Drake falls apart again in the second half, this time against Indiana State.