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Archive for Monday, March 13, 2006

Wichita State finally headed back to tourney

March 13, 2006

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— After three straight NIT bids, Wichita State has its first NCAA Tournament berth in 18 years.

The Shockers (24-8), regular-season champions of the Missouri Valley Conference, were selected Sunday as the No. 7 seed in the Washington Regional. They will face 10th-seeded Seton Hall (18-11) on Thursday in Greensboro, N.C.

Wichita State last's NCAA appearance was in 1988, a first-round loss to DePaul.

"This is something we've talked about all year, leaving our footprints in the sands of time, as coach says," senior center Paul Miller said. "It's something I know I'm proud of, to finally get to the NCAA Tournament. That's something we came here to do, and it will be nice to hang that banner up there."

Despite Wichita State's loss in the semifinals of the Valley tournament, coach Mark Turgeon said he expected to be in the top half of the bracket.

"I thought we were in, but it was a little nerve-wracking when we didn't come up the first couple of brackets," Turgeon said. "Then, to get the respect that we got, with that seven seed, that was where I thought we would be."

Wichita State failed to get an NCAA bid last year despite its second straight 20-win season, but left little doubt this year by winning its first conference title since 1987. This is the eighth appearance in the tournament for the Shockers, who made it to the Final Four in 1965.

"We're going to take great pride in this," senior guard Cameron Ledford said. "The whole city of Wichita is, too. But it's not just us. This is what coach Turgeon has been building since he stepped on campus."

And though they might have disappointed his team at the time, Turgeon said, the NIT bids helped the Shockers in the end.

"I never tried to look at the NIT as a negative," he said. "It's not easy to get into the postseason, but this (NCAA bid) is what the kids want, what the coaches want, what the fans want and what the alumni want."

Seton Hall comes in having won two of its last three games, but lost, 61-48, to Rutgers in the first round of the Big East tournament.

The Pirates are led by a pair of All-Big East second-team selections, both seniors: guard Donald Copeland (16.1 ppg) and forward Kelly Whitney (15.1 ppg, 8.0 rpg).

Until Turgeon and his staff can start breaking down game tapes, those are just numbers on a stat sheet.

"We've got three or four films on them, and we know some people in the Big East," Turgeon said.

"We'll burn the midnight oil tonight and try to figure out what we're going to do the next couple of days."

Turgeon said he was less concerned about carrying a banner for the mid-major conference than in proving the Shockers deserved their No. 7 seed.

"I'm happy for the Valley, but I care about one group, and that's Wichita State," he said. "Our pride is what we're playing for. If we start worrying about playing for the Valley, that's not going to help us."

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