Win or lose, the CBE Classic games in Kansas City can be a plus for Wichita State's basketball team. It's all in how the Shockers handle their success or failure.
Recent history provides a guide.
In 2005, a WSU team picked fifth in the Missouri Valley Conference played an Illinois team coming off a Final Four. The Shockers lost 55-54 on a neutral court. Pushing the Illini to the final seconds proved to that team it could play with anybody. That confidence helped the Shockers on their way to the 2006 Sweet 16. Last season, WSU played Georgetown and Michigan State closer than most expected in a tournament in Florida.
Those performances, in addition to a win over Siena, gave the Shockers an inflated sense of their skills. They paid for it with an 0-6 start to the Missouri Valley Conference season.
"We thought we had arrived, just because we played good," sophomore David Kyles said. "We kind of put it in cruise, instead of keeping the intensity up."
One year later, the 2009 Shockers, picked fifth in the MVC, are in a similar position to the 2005-06 team. They think they can be one of the better teams in the Missouri Valley Conference, yet uncertainty exists for a team that went 17-17 in 2009. Over the next two days, the Shockers can learn a lot about where this season might end.
"Going out and playing those big teams, we played with a sense of urgency," junior Graham Hatch said. "When we came back here, we thought we could play with anybody. We lost that sense of urgency, and that's why we went downhill."
The Shockers (2-0) believe they are mature enough to get more out of the experience than they did a year ago. The Shockers started two freshmen and two transfers in a 58-50 loss to Georgetown. Kyles came off the bench to score 11 points in his fourth college game. After beating Siena 72-70, WSU led Michigan State at the half before losing 65-57.
Is it any wonder the Shockers didn't fear Northern Iowa?
"We set ourselves up for some false expectations," WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. "We weren't ready to beat Michigan State or Georgetown. We got a dose of reality when we got into the Valley."
While WSU is without suspended senior guard Clevin Hannah for one more game, it will start three juniors and a two sophomores against Pitt (3-0).
"I think we're definitely more prepared," Hatch said. "The people who went down there last year, they've experienced it. Going to (play) Pitt, we're going to handle it all right. It's only the name on the jersey."
Marshall knows that name stands for something — an Elite Eight appearance in 2009, for starters. Pitt coach Jamie Dixon is 34-0 in November games.
"These guys are used to winning," Marshall said. "These are the big boys. We'll have to execute and take care of the little things."
This week's games represent the middle leg of a three-season journey to some of college basketball's best regular-season tournaments for WSU. Last season's Old Spice Classic also hosted Tennessee, Oklahoma State and Gonzaga. WSU joins Kentucky, Connecticut, Oklahoma, Michigan State and others in the Maui Invitational next season.
That competition and exposure on ESPN's networks is golden to WSU. Assistant coach Marty Gross sent out more than 100 e-mails to coaches and players before the Shockers played on ESPNU against Fairleigh Dickinson.
"We wanted to see, the kids we are involved with this year, next year and the year after, who's paying attention," Marshall said. "Kind of gauge their interest in our program. We got some good response, and that was against FDU on ESPNU. I think this will be even better because of the opponent and it's on (ESPN2)."
Of course, that TV time means more if the Shockers play well. Much more if they win in the Sprint Center.
"We're going to get something accomplished," Kyles said. "Last year, we were sick with ourselves, even though a lot of people didn't expect us to beat Georgetown or Michigan State. We wanted to beat them. This year, we have the same chip on your shoulder."