Markis McDuffie, left, and Wichita State drew raves from Arizona Coach Sean Miller, who declared himself “envious” of the Shockers’ first-round ‘upset.’. (Charles Krupa/AP)
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The post-game reviews came in after midnight, and they sparkled. Arizona Coach Sean Miller called himself “envious.” Wichita State Coach Gregg Marshall called it “a testament to these young men.” Arizona center Kaleb Tarczewski said, “Their defense is unbelievable.” Wichita State guard Fred VanVleet called it a “big-time game plan” from coaches “that are skipping sleep.”
Here’s that Wichita State again. Its defense stirs awe. Its program stands 9-3 in the last four NCAA tournaments. It’s a team nobody should want to play. Coaches agree its senior guards, VanVleet and Ron Baker, should play in the NBA, with Miller saying VanVleet will “be there for a long, long time.” They and their mates just took an Arizona program averaging 81 points and throttled it, allowing a puny 55 points in a 65-55 finish not nearly that close. They have Miami (Fla.) next.
They’re a fresh storm in a South Region bracket. Miller called them “good enough to win several more games in this tournament.”
After all of that, everyone might need a reminder that a wee week ago, the Shockers were the subject of a mild national bubble debate, that VanVleet felt “a breath of fresh air” and relief just seeing Wichita State’s name pop up on the Selection Sunday screen, that the team once stood 5-5 largely because of VanVleet’s injury, that it lost a Missouri Valley semifinal in overtime to Northern Iowa, that it had to win a play-in game against Vanderbilt just to get here . . .
You might call it madness.
“I mean, they held an 81-point-per-game team to 55, and we really struggled to get 55,” Miller said. They spent the first half shooting 6-for-22, spent part of the second half trailing by 24, had 19 turnovers to go with 20 field goals, looked uncommonly helpless. Their 7-footer, Tarczewski, got three shots. Their veteran guard, Gabe York, “mentioned he missed a couple shots,” Miller said, “(but) I don’t think we had many. I feel guilty. I wish I could have done a better job helping our guys on offense.”
It didn’t even matter that the Shockers (25-8) missed 35 of 59 shots because, Marshall said, “I was so pleased with how we got back in transition tonight. We sprinted back after we missed, and we missed a lot of shots . . . We were able to get back, get our butts to the baseline, and support that basketball and keep them from getting in the paint.”
The raves kept on. York told of clogged passing lanes. Miller said of VanVleet, “He’s in total control of the game,” and, “He dominates the ball,” and, “He forces your point guard to do things that he normally doesn’t do.” He said of VanVleet and Baker, “When you put those two guys out there together, considering the experience they have, it’s not a good feeling playing against Wichita State.”
The Shockers, of course, reached the 2013 Final Four. They entered the 2014 tournament unbeaten, got a No. 1 seed, but in the second round found a recovering No. 8 seed in Kentucky. They reached the 2015 Sweet Sixteen. Now they’re playing, in a way, with house money. “When you play against a defense that talented, ferocious, disciplined, tough, you have to be great at what you do,” Miller said, “and that’s what’s going to be required to beat them.”
That’s a week after they resided on a bubble.