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Archive for Thursday, December 24, 2009

Wichita State strives to revive tradition

December 24, 2009

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— It really hasn’t been that long since Wichita State enjoyed elite status in the college basketball world, but for the Shockers, it might seem like it.

Wichita State reached the round of 16 in the NCAA Tournament in 2006 and the following season rose to No. 8 in the Top 25 before conference play. Then came a second-semester collapse, and two middling seasons followed.

Coach Gregg Marshall and his players urge caution, but right now the Shockers appear to be one of the elite teams in the Missouri Valley Conference. An 11-1 start that includes a win over then-No. 16 Texas Tech has the Shockers receiving votes in The Associated Press poll and hoping to join fellow Sunflower State schools Kansas and Kansas State in the rankings.

Wichita State’s start is its best since the 2005-06 season.

“We still haven’t proved anything to the national people,” senior point guard Clevin Hannah said. “We’re just trying to get better, day by day in practice, keep working hard and try to break that Top 25. If we keep working hard, then we can do it.

“Everybody in that locker room thinks we’re a good team right now, within ourselves, but we’ve just got to get out there and show it to other people and let them know.”

Wichita State long has been in the shadow of Kansas’ two Big 12 Conference schools, but the Shockers have had a fair amount of success. They reached the Final Four in 1965 and a regional final in 1981 — beating Kansas along the way — before their 2006 success under then-coach Mark Turgeon, when they beat Seton Hall and Tennessee in the NCAA Tournament before losing to fellow mid-major upstart George Mason.

Under Turgeon, Wichita State posted successive road wins the next season at George Mason, Louisiana State and Syracuse to start 9-0 and climb into the top 10, but the Shockers could not sustain it and finished 17-14. Turgeon left for Texas A&M and Marshall came in from Winthrop, where he’d posted a 194-83 record and reached seven NCAA Tournaments.

It’s taken him awhile to get it going at Wichita State. The Shockers slumped to 11-20 his first season and went 17-17 last season, although a late-season surge helped them receive a berth in the College Basketball Invitational. Marshall’s overall mark at Wichita State is 39-38 after a 69-57 win on Monday over North Dakota State, a fact he wryly noted when asked about it after the game.

“Last year was more of a speed-up year. The first year was a standstill,” Marshall said. “We’re making progress, aren’t we? I never had a losing record in my life until I came here and that was a very difficult time.”

The Shockers were picked fifth in the conference’s preseason poll, but have surpassed those expectations with balance. Sophomore guard Toure Murry leads the team with a 13.8-point average, while six other players average 6.9 points or more per game. WSU has outrebounded foes by a 37-30 margin.

The Shockers lost, 68-55, to Pittsburgh on Nov. 23 in Kansas City, Mo., while playing without Hannah, whom the NCAA ruled ineligible for three games because he played last season without being properly certified as an amateur because of an administrative error.

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