Five years later, the thing that Tekele Cotton remembers the most about Wichita State's improbable run to the 2013 Final Four as a No. 9 seed is how laid-back the team was entering the NCAA Tournament.
This was before the Shockers became a national brand and before Gregg Marshall was known as one of the country's top coaches.
This was a season when WSU lost three straight in Missouri Valley play and failed to win its final two regular-season games, including a senior-day loss to Evansville, with a conference title on the line, then failed to win the conference tournament title too.
But before the 2013 team rattled off wins over Pittsburgh, top-seeded Gonzaga, La Salle, and Ohio State to reach the Final Four in Atlanta, Cotton says the team was having the most fun it had all season.
"Everybody was joking, having a good time, dancing," Cotton said. "Go back and watch the film after we beat Ohio State. That's how the vibe was for us and I feel like that was a great display of what it was like for us when all of that was happening."
This year's WSU team has similarities to that 2013 team and they hope to make a similar run.
They hit turbulence in the middle of conference season and the 2013 and 2018 WSU teams are the only teams that have lost on senior day in Marshall's 20 years as coach. They are also the only two teams without a conference title of some kind during WSU's string of seven straight appearances in the NCAA Tournament.
Some might think the Shockers, who play No. 13 seed Marshall on Friday at 12:30 p.m. in San Diego, are feeling pressure to deliver on their lofty preseason expectations.
Cotton has some advice.
"I Just hope they know they can go out there and have fun like we did," Cotton said. "All of the hard work has already been put in. Now it's time for them to showcase what they've been working hard all year to showcase. This is what Marshall has been preparing them for all year. I think they can prove people wrong like we did."
Chadrack Lufile was a junior-college transfer for that 2012-13 season. He didn't play a large role on that year's team, but he remembers the locker room that featured senior leaders in Malcolm Armstead, Carl Hall and Demetric Williams, as well as younger talent like Cleanthony Early, Cotton, Fred VanVleet, and Ron Baker.
Lufile feels like going through the adversity before the NCAA Tournament hardened the group. Once they arrived at the big stage, they weren't concerned about anyone but themselves.
"We went up against No. 1 Gonzaga and they were looking at us, but we weren't even looking at them," Lufile said. "We were looking at ourselves. We weren't even really worried about our opponent, we were just worried about executing and playing our game. All we cared about was doing our own thing and we knew we could beat anybody. We didn't care about any big names."
Cotton said the team had a "nothing-to-lose" mentality, an attitude he feels like should translate to this year's WSU team that has six seniors (and possibly sophomore Landry Shamet) playing in a WSU uniform for the final time. He said they were able to play so loose because they had put their trust in the work that Marshall and the coaching staff had put them through over the season.
"The great thing about Marshall is that he gets you ready for the moment eight months before it comes," Cotton said. "He makes you put in all of the hard work and makes you understand all of the little details because he knows it will translate to this time. I know the guys have been putting in the work all year, so now it's just time to let it shine because they're more than capable of doing the same thing we did."
The 2013 team can also relate to the uncertainty and doubt that came about after they hit a midseason skid and failed to win a conference title.
Lufile remembers the locker-room scene after WSU had lost its third straight game in Valley play (similar to when WSU lost back-to-back games to SMU and Houston this season).
"It was like a hurricane just hit our locker room," Lufile said. "Coach didn't know what to do. It felt like a funeral. We were losing games that we felt like we should be winning.
"Looking back, we needed to lose to get that reality check. Sometimes it's better to come up from the bottom. The adversity you have to go through and all of the doubt you hear after you lose, it makes you that much of a better player down the stretch."
When WSU was going through its own adversity this season, senior Rashard Kelly reached out to VanVleet to ask him about what the team could do to make sure it peaks at the right time.
"He just told me it's a grind in March and it becomes more mental than physical," Kelly said. "You have to understand you're capable of it. You're here for a reason. You've just got to keep pushing when everything turns into a grind. The best basketball players play in March."
Lufile and Cotton have both paid close attention to this year's WSU team during its 25-7 season. They've seen the ups and the downs and have felt the same frustrations as fans to watch WSU come up empty for a championship in its first year in the American Athletic Conference.
But they both agree this year's team has the pieces to duplicate the 2013 Final Four run.
"If everybody can hold their own weight and bring something to the table day-in and day-out and they have fun with it, then anything is possible for them honestly," Cotton said.
"I just feel like they've got to sit down and be real and talk about what they really want," Lufile said. "Everyone needs to be locked in and have that sense of urgency. They need to play for your brothers, play for your family, play for your school. This is the time to do it right now. You can change your life right now."
And the biggest advantage that the two teams both share? The WSU fans, Cotton says.
"The energy that Wichita fans bring makes it 10 times better because we know everywhere we go it's going to be a home game," Cotton said. "Shocker Nation creates that atmosphere for us and I don't even know if they know how much that does for us as players, but it does a lot. It adds fuel to the fire when you look up and see all of the yellow, you see coach Marshall's wife right there in the middle getting everybody hyped up. It's a whole bunch of fun and I hope they get to experience the same thing we did."