Convincing major-conference teams to play the Shockers in Wichita has been a difficult task for Gregg Marshall. Convincing them to play Wichita State at Koch Arena has been next to impossible.
That’s why Saturday is a monumental scheduling victory for WSU when coach Scott Drew brings his Baylor Bears (5-2) to Koch Arena to face the Shockers (3-3) in a 7 p.m. game at Koch Arena on CBS Sports Network.
It is the first opponent from a major conference to play a non-conference men’s basketball game at Koch Arena in eight years. Texas Tech, ranked No. 18 at the time, lost an 85-83 game to WSU at Koch Arena on Dec. 19, 2010.
“It’s a great opportunity to play against a great program,” Drew said. “Coach Marshall is one of the best coaches in the country. Your team gets better after playing his teams. The physicality, the execution, it prepares you for what you face in conference.
“So often early in the year, arenas aren’t really packed. That’s why we like to play these games because after they get this experience, now they know what Big 12 play is going to be like.”
Marshall has been able to get WSU to the table when it comes to scheduling major-conference opponents, but typically their demands have been that when they make the return trip that they play at Intrust Bank Arena rather than a true road game at Koch Arena. That has been the stipulation with the series with Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
After WSU plays OU in Oklahoma City next Saturday, the Sooners will make a return visit to Intrust Bank Arena next year. WSU and OSU recently came to a four-year agreement where WSU will play at Gallagher-Iba Arena in 2019 and 2021, while OSU will play at Intrust Bank Arena in 2020 and Koch Arena in 2022.
Drew and Baylor broke that trend.
“You’ve got to give a lot of respect to coach Drew and his team for being willing to come here like a lot of teams would not,” WSU assistant Lou Gudino said. “That’s just the nature of college basketball these days. I think teams in the past have elevated Wichita State to that level, so teams are willing to come in here and it’s not a lose-lose. It’s just like playing another high-major program.”
“I think Scott is trying to play the best schedule he can,” Marshall said. “He’s not afraid to play us, that’s for sure. Scott’s not afraid, he’s trying to get into the NCAA Tournament. He’s trying to get the best schedule he can.”
Saturday’s game will be the return trip by Baylor in a home-and-home agreement between the two schools. WSU defeated Baylor 69-62 in Waco last December.
While it marks the end of the current agreement, Marshall said he will push to continue the rivalry.
“Would love to keep continuing the series, just like we’ve done with Oklahoma and Oklahoma State again starting next year,” Marshall said. “We love to play whoever that helps us and wherever. It’s probably something we’ll discuss when we see each other (Saturday).”
For Drew, WSU is an ideal opponent for his team to play before Big 12 season begins.
Saturday’s trip to Koch Arena will be Baylor’s first road game this season. Much like WSU, Baylor is dealing with plenty of inexperience. The difference is many of Baylor’s new players are transfers, rather than true freshman.
“For most of our guys, it will be the first time in an environment like this against a team this psychically and mentally tough and challenging as Wichita State,” Drew said. “But that’s what we’re going to face the rest of the year.”
For WSU, it represents another quality opponent.
The Shockers played much better in its second home outing, a 90-61 beat-down of Rice, but it came against an overmatched opponent. This will be an opportunity for WSU to test itself for the first time since leaving the Charleston Classic with a 1-2 record.
“We expect a lot of talented players wearing the darker colors of the visiting team,” Marshall said.