WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita State should have no problem playing angry this time around.
The program whose mantra of “play angry” carried it to the Final Four two years ago, and to a perfect regular-season record last year, was handed a No. 7 seed by the NCAA Tournament selection committee Sunday and given a tough opening matchup against Indiana.
Hardly a reward for winning another regular-season Missouri Valley Conference title, spending much of the season ranked in the top 10 and having one of the nation’s best backcourts.
But if anybody is a master manipulator when it comes to using a perceived slight to his advantage, it just may be Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall. He thrives on playing the underdog role, and the Shockers have come to embody that over the years.
“It is what it is,” Marshall said Monday. “We don’t get to vote on where they seed us.”
That may constitute a verbal shrug, but you can bet the uber-competitive Marshall will have his guys playing as if they have been treated unfairly against the Hoosiers on Friday.
“Bottom line is our region is tough,” Marshall said. “We have four of the top 10 winningest programs in the history of college basketball — and we’re not one of them — in our region. Kentucky is one, Kansas is two, Indiana and Notre Dame. We’ve got four in our region. We have to make it through those guys to get to the Final Four.”
Ah, yes — Kansas. Don’t forget the Shockers could earn a third-round date with the Jayhawks if both win, finally getting a chance to play the school that refuses to schedule them.
That fact surely wasn’t lost on Kansas coach Bill Self, who was stunned to see the Shockers fall to the 7 line when the bracket flashed on the television screen.
“How in the world they’re a 7 seed blows my mind,” he said. “I thought the Missouri Valley, to be honest, deserved a little more credit than what they got. I thought they would be a higher seed and Northern Iowa would be a higher seed, too.”
Know who else was intrigued by a potential Shockers-Jayhawks matchup? Hoosiers coach Tom Crean, who didn’t even notice that at first it would come at the expense of his team.
“It’s like, ‘There’s Kansas,’ and then, ‘There’s Wichita State,'” he said, “and I’m saying, ‘Wow! Wichita State can play Kansas in the semi … whoa, there’s Indiana,’ and it was just one of those deals. That was my thought process.”
This is hardly the first time Wichita State got stuck with a tough seed.
After its perfect run last season, it was rewarded with a No. 1 seed — and a third-round date with eventual runner-up Kentucky, which was given the eighth seed in the region. The year before that, the Shockers were dealt a No. 9 seed before going all the way to the Final Four.
“If I don’t like it, it doesn’t really matter,” Marshall said. “They don’t call me and ask my opinion. I know you’re asking me, but that doesn’t matter. I’ll just go with what we’ve got, try to play the best we can and try to get to the second weekend.”
Indiana should be able to build a scouting report on the Shockers pretty easily considering junior guard Nick Zeisloft started his career at Valley rival Illinois State. He faced Ron Baker, Tekele Cotton and Co. twice each his freshman and sophomore seasons.
“Their five starters right now were all there last year, so personnel-wise, they’re similar,” Zeisloft said. “But one thing with Wichita is they’re a tough team. They play tough, and a big thing of theirs is ‘play angry.’ They definitely do that game in and game out.”
Wichita State’s “play angry” mantra was born a couple of years ago, when former stars Xavier McDaniel and Antoine Carr visited the team. They asked the Shockers how it would feel if someone came into their house and tried to steal something. The response was quite natural: They’d be angry. So McDaniel and Carr encouraged the Shockers to play that way every time on the court, and it stuck.
Now, it’s emblazoned on T-shirts worn around town, bumper stickers on cars, flags flying in front of houses. It’s not just a mantra anymore, it’s a state of mind.
“I’ve played them several times,” Zeisloft said. “We have our work cut out for us.”