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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Banshee's Best: It's a Shocker!

A month ago, I wrote about Liberty University getting their glass slippers for the Big Dance.  In the last three weeks, we've gone from 68 teams down to 4.  Liberty had an early curfew and didn't even make it to the first real weekend of the NCAA tournament.  But there is still one Cinderella dancing.  And it is a Shocker!  Actually it's fifteen Shockers.  On Saturday night, the #9 seed Wichita State Shockers defeated the #2 seed Ohio State Buckeyes to win the West region and advance to the Final Four.

Normally, a #9 seed from the nation's heartland making it to the Final Four would be the lead story from the regional final weekend.  Unfortunately, the horrific leg injury to Louisville's Kevin Ware dominated all media outlets.  And, unfortunately for Wichita State, the buzz saw that is Louisville's defense is awaiting them on Saturday in the semi-finals.  But, before the Shockers have to face the Cardinals in front of a national audience, let's take a moment to look at the Wichita State Shockers and their path to the Final Four.

The Shockers got off to a 9-0 start.  They appeared in the polls off and on throughout the season, peaking at #15 in the AP around the middle of the season.  So, it's not as if this Cinderella didn't have some dating opportunities throughout the year (yeah, I couldn't resist continuing the Cinderella and her prince metaphore).  But Shockers struggled a bit down the stretch, losing two of their last four games in the regular season.  Wichita State did not win the regular season championship in the Missouri Valley Conference and did not win the conference tournament.  Hence the #9 seed.

But once the tournament started, things started clicking again for the Shockers.  The first team to get shocked in the tournament was the Pitt Panthers (pun intended).  The fact that #9 seed beat a #8 seed is really not an upset.  But, the decisive fashion in which WSU dispatched one of the Big East's big boys was surprising.  That win lined up a date with the #1 seed Gonzaga Bulldogs.  Perhaps it was because many people still remember Gonzaga as a Cinderella itself or perhaps it was because the game was played towards the end of Saturday night after die hard fans had already spent over thirty hours watching basketball, but the Shockers victory over the top seed in the West wasn't nearly as big of a headline as you'd expect.  In the Sweet Sixteen round, the Shockers got a bit of a reprieve when they faced the upstart thirteen-seeded La Salle Explorers.  Wichita State took care of the Explorers by a comfortable margin.

The win over La Salle led Wichita State to a match-up against the Ohio State Buckeyes.  The Buckeyes were the #2 seed and had won the conference tournament in the mighty Big Ten.  But, the Shockers weren't intimidated by the name n the front of OSU's jerseys.  Wichita State built up a 20-point lead in the second half before holding on for a 4-point win.  And, with that victory, the Wichita State Shockers earned the right to cut down the nets in Los Angeles.

So, what awaits the Wichita State Shockers in the Final Four next weekend?  Well, for starters, they will face the Louisville Cardinals, the overall top seed in the tournament, on Saturday.  But, after knocking off a #1 and a #2 seed to get out of the West region, there is reason for optimist in Shocker nation.  At the very least, Wichita State will have the best mascot roaming the baselines in Atlanta.

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