Some may say it was fate. Others, only that Wichita State worked for everything they got.
Whichever you believe in — good preparation or good luck — the fact remains; the Shockers put on a clinic while overcoming second-seeded Kansas in a Sunday showdown.
The boys from little Wichita, Kansas took on their in-state nemesis, big school University of Kansas from Lawrence. And they emerged on top, winning 78-65 to advance to the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16.
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A history lesson
This was the first time since 1993 that the two nearby teams have played, after years of inter-state rivalries in the past.
The Jayhawks had been the decided winners of that series, with a 12-2 record against the Shockers. They had won the last five iterations of the game, losing last in 1987.
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It's not hard to imagine why the big public university had such an advantage. People in Kansas grow up dreaming of becoming Jayhawks; not so much for the small-school Shockers. In fact, Kansas' earliest win against the school came when Wichita State was still called Fairmount College in 1908 (that was a blistering 65-15 defeat).
But in today's NCAA, where small schools are rising and regularly competing with the big dogs, it's not unheard of for a lesser-team to compete. And boy, did the Shockers bring it this week.
Wichita State started four guards in the victory, and those four were also the team's leading scorers. Tekele Cotton rang in 19 points to pace the Shockers, while Fred VanVleet followed with 17 points, six assists and six rebounds. Every starter had double digit scoring.
They didn't have a starter over 6-foot-7, yet managed to bang the floor with Kansas big men Perry Ellis (6-foot-8, 225 pounds) and Landen Lucas (6-foot-10, 240 pounds). And while the Shockers gave up something on the glass (out-rebounded 38-32), they more than made up with hot shooting.
That's because Wichita State shot 49 percent from the field, draining 10 three-pointers while scoring 49 points in the second half. Kansas couldn't keep pace, shooting only 35 percent and ceding the double-digit loss.
Not-so under dogs
Going forward, Wichita State would certainly be considered a top contender for the Final Four — if they weren't stuck with an eventual Elite Eight date with seemingly unbeatable Kentucky.
But let's ignore that for just a second; the Shockers certainly have everything needed to succeed.
They now have a 30-4 record. But even on entering the tournament, they had 28- wins — more than the 27 that Kansas began with. Though seeded low, it's not like the Shockers aren't used to winning games.
Add in the fact that Wichita State is as hot a three-point shooting team as there is out there, touting a 50-percent mark against Kansas, and it's hard not to see them as dangerous to any squad.
They'll face No. 3 Notre Dame in the Sweet 16, which should by all accounts be a shootout. And whoever emerges from that will presumably face Kentucky next.
That's a date with the devil if there ever has been one. But the Shockers have proven they belong in this tournament.
And perhaps they'll have one more shock left in them.
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