For Wichita State senior Markis McDuffie, playing in the National Invitation Tournament in his final season could have been viewed as a let-down after appearing in the NCAA Tournament his first three years.
But this season has been full of surprises for McDuffie, who has found that overcoming this much adversity to send the Shockers (21-14) to the NIT quarterfinals has been as fulfilling as any other season.
And even the tournament itself has given McDuffie a surprise: the chance to go to major-conference venues and knock off teams. First it was beating a 20-win ACC team in Clemson on Sunday, next McDuffie and the Shockers will try to take down Indiana (19-15) at Assembly Hall in a 6 p.m. Central time matchup on Tuesday.
Win that and WSU will be headed to the semifinals at New York City with the chance to play at Madison Square Garden, right across the Hudson River from where McDuffie grew up in Paterson, N.J., a consolation prize not available in the NCAA Tournament.
“This whole NIT thing is actually really cool to travel and play in places you never thought you would play,” McDuffie said. “To play an ACC team on the road, I never would have thought I would be playing there back when we were in the (Missouri) Valley. Now we get the chance to go play at Indiana, which is definitely a big-time program with their history. That’s going to be another great experience.”
There isn’t much that ties the two programs together other than their first-round meeting in the 2015 NCAA Tournament when the seventh-seeded Shockers defeated the 10th-seeded Hoosiers in an 81-76 victory. That WSU team, with juniors Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker, beat Kansas before losing to Notre Dame in the Sweet 16. Indiana beat WSU in a 1989 game in Indianapolis.
Indiana coach Archie Miller also has one game of head-to-head experience against WSU coach Gregg Marshall, a 64-58 loss to the Shockers in the first round of the 2017 NCAA tournament in Miller’s final game at Dayton.
“I remember that game like it was yesterday, us not being able to score enough baskets at the end,” Miller said. “When you play them, you just have to understand what’s going on. If you’re not ready to rebound and play hard, you’re not ready to compete, they’re going to get you. That’s been their MO as long as coach Marshall has been there. Their mantra is just toughness.”
As for Marshall, he’s never been inside Assembly Hall, but he does have a story about the only time he’s been in the area when he was an assistant coach at Charleston in the late 1980s and early 90s.
“Back in the day there was a triangle of Lexington, Louisville and Bloomington,” Marshall said. “There were three different recruiting deals and I drove to all of them and one of the stops was Bloomington. I drove up to the outside of Assembly Hall and I didn’t go inside, but I saw coach Bob Knight walking out at a distance. I didn’t say hello, I didn’t know him at that point. But I’ve never been inside.”
Assembly Hall is widely recognized as one of college basketball’s best homecourt advantages and announcer Gus Johnson refers to it as the “Carnegie Hall of college basketball.” The Hoosiers aren’t quite selling out the 17,222-seat arena, but still packed more than 12,000 fans in for their 63-60 win over Arkansas on Saturday.
WSU’s players are aware of Indiana’s tradition and its five national championships, but won’t be intimidated by the atmosphere on Tuesday. After losing their first six games on the road, the Shockers will be trying to win their sixth straight.
“We’ve been through a lot, so to even be here is a true blessing after where we came from,” WSU freshman Dexter Dennis said. “We’re playing good right now, but I always feel like we could be playing better.”
WSU is 13-3 in its last 16 games, while Indiana has recovered to win six of its last seven after losing 12 of 13 games in January and February. The Hoosiers’ best player, blue-chip freshman Romeo Langford, who averages 16.5 points and 5.4 rebounds, is questionable for the game because of a back injury that prevented him from playing the first two games in the NIT.
“We’re going to have to establish some things around the basket because things are going to be tough on the perimeter,” Miller said. “You’re not going to get great shots. They do a great job of that. The physicality of the game is going to be way up. For us, we’re going to have to find a way to establish the pain. When we’ve established the paint here recently, good things have happened for us.”
Despite Indiana’s mediocre record, it is not a team to be overlooked. The Hoosiers are a top seed in the NIT, primarily because they proved what they are capable of by sweeping the season series with Michigan State and beating NCAA tournament teams like Wisconsin, Louisville and Marquette. They have since forgotten the disappointment of missing the NCAA tournament.
“You could kind of tell after they announced the tournament, all the guys were disappointed, nobody really wanted to practice or anything,” Indiana senior Juwan Morgan said. “Once the actual game day got here, guys had a different mentality. Guys were ready to play. As you can see, we won the last two. Guys are feeling more and more great about going into this postseason.
“We’re going there to compete,” WSU senior Samajae Haynes-Jones said. “I feel like every time we take the court, we come out with a chip on our shoulder. We want to compete.”
The game will have special meaning for WSU assistant coach Lou Gudino, who is a 1997 Indiana graduate. Gudino has deep roots in the state. He was born in Clinton, about 90 minutes from Bloomington, and started his coaching career as a varsity assistant coach at Martinsville High School, not far from Assembly Hall. He was also an assistant at Indiana State for 10 years from 2007-17.
The Shockers could also make history by becoming the first NIT team to sweep the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 seeds in regional play. They would be just sixth team in the tournament’s history to reach New York with three road wins.
There are plenty of story lines that can motivate the Shockers.
But to the players, they’re addicted to the winning feeling and they want, more than anything, to keep their season alive and end it in New York City playing for a championship.
“It’s going to be amazing,” Haynes-Jones said. “When we get inside those lines, it’s on.”
No. 6 seed Wichita State at No. 1 Indiana
Records: WSU 21-14, IU 19-15
When: 6 p.m. Central time Tuesday
Where: Assembly Hall (17,222), Bloomington, Ind.
Radio: KEYN, 103.7-FM
About Wichita State: WSU could become just the fourth school to win NIT championships in consecutive appearances after winning it all in 2011. The Shockers’ seven straight NIT wins is tied for the eighth-longest streak in the tournament’s 82-year history... Gregg Marshall won his 500th career game with WSU’s first-round win over Furman, making Marshall one of just 10 coaches that reached that milestone before the end of his 21st season... WSU is one of just eight programs in the nation to have won at least 20 games in every season since 2010... WSU senior Markis McDuffie is averaging 18.3 points, the highest Shocker scoring average of the Marshall era. McDuffie now ranks 13th on WSU’s all-time scoring list (1,492), while his 154 free throws, 79 three-pointers and 639 points all rank in the top-five on WSU’s single-season lists... Sunday’s win over Clemson was WSU’s first win over an ACC opponent since 2011 when the Shockers beat Virginia Tech in the NIT.
About Indiana: This will be the second time Indiana coach Archie Miller has gone head-to-head with WSU’s Gregg Marshall. The two met in the first round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament when WSU defeated Miller’s Dayton Flyers 64-58. It was Miller’s final game before accepting the Indiana job. He is 35-30 in two seasons at Indiana... Indiana has won six of its last seven games and the Hoosiers won their first two NIT games for the first time since 1985... Indiana was one of the last four teams left out of the NCAA Tournament with six Quadrant 1 wins and no losses in Quadrant 3 or 4. Indiana played the 13th-toughest schedule in the country, per KenPom.com... Indiana is 7-8 in games decided in overtime or by fewer than five points...Indiana is 11-0 this season when making at least 50 percent of its shots and has overcome deficits in its previous 15 wins.