3 reasons the Shockers can pull it off

1. The ability to dance to every
tempo

 
The Shockers
aren’t pretty. They aren’t all that complicated, either. Badger the snot
out of you until you miss, then grab the rebound and try to push it the
other way. If there’s a nutty carom off the rim, get your backside in
position and own it. If there’s a loose ball on the floor, dive for that
puppy like it’s the last sack lunch on the planet. Crazy as it sounds,
Wichita has the horses to run with Louisville if Saturday’s first
national semifinal becomes a track meet, and probably won’t hesitate
should the opportunity arise. If there’s a chance to break the
Cardinal’s press, coach Gregg Marshall trusts his backcourt enough to
give them the green light. The Shox are more than comfortable to ugly it
up, too, showcasing the offensive range of forwards Cleanthony Early
and Carl Hall on quick-hit plays and in half-court sets. The less
pleasant this contest is on the eyes, the better chance Wichita has of
sticking around: The Shox rank 20th in the country in offensive
rebounding percentage (38); Louisville ranks 242nd nationally in
defensive rebounding percentage (66.8). If it somehow becomes a
grind-it-out, want-to kind of tilt, how badly will Louisville want it?

 
2.
Star-snuffing

 
The
list of tombstones this month is long, storied, and paved with bricks.
Pittsburgh star Tray Woodall: 1-for-12 from the floor, 0-5 on treys.
Gonzaga stud Kevin Pangos: 6-17 from the floor, four turnovers. La Salle
sharpshooter Ramon Galloway: 4-15 from the floor, four turnovers. Ohio
State catalyst Aaron Craft: 2-12 from the floor, 2-7 from beyond the
arc. Through four NCAA tourney games, Wichita’s perimeter defense has
taken the opposition’s best backcourt threat and turned them into a
liability. Up next, the Shockers’ greatest challenge awaits — in the
form of Bracketville’s baddest hombre, Louisville guard Russ Smith. Of
all the individual matchups Saturday night, how coach Gregg Marshall
elects to deal with the 6-foot-1 Smith — who’s averaging 27 points in
the Dance and is the runaway favorite to be crowned tourney MVP — might
be the most fascinating one of all. Wichita guards Malcom Armstead,
Tekele Cotton and Ron Baker are rough-and-tumble types with excellent
feet, a group with linebacker bodies and linebacker mentalities. The
Shox have been making a lot of really good guards look silly this month,
and that trio is the major reason why. In the Cards’ five losses, Smith
shot just .321 from the floor and a miserable .130 (3-for-23) on his
3-point attempts. If he’s wild, this game could get wild in a
hurry.
 
3.
That whole ‘Play Angry’ thing? It’s
real

 
Angry? The
Shockers don’t just play angry. When they’re right, they play with a
nasty, vengeful aftertaste. It’s the perfect storm of rising blood
pressures: A program that growls about how it’s unloved and overlooked
(and has to share a neighborhood with Kansas and Kansas State, neither
of which has shown much interest in settling it on the basketball
court), led by a coach who talks as if no one takes him seriously
(although that number is shrinking by the day), directing a roster of
overlooked local kids and transfers, all thrown together to represent a
blue-collar, unfashionable Midwestern town. Marshall has always given
off an us-against-the-world sort of vibe, and that tone has never been
more apropos than it will be this weekend against the heavily favored
Cardinal. Wichita already took out one top seed in Gonzaga; in the eyes
of the Shox’s players, the number before the name on this weekend’s
dance card means absolutely nothing. “This team has done better when
nothing’s been expected, when they’re the underdogs, which we’ll really
be on Saturday,” Marshall said earlier this week. “When they’re picked
fourth in the (MVC) preseason (poll) after losing the five seniors (from
the previous year). I just think that’s when we’re at our
best.”
 
 
3 REASONS THE SHOCKERS ARE IN
TROUBLE

 
1. Scoring
droughts

 
Wichita
will ‘D’ you up like a pack of wildebeests, happily, for as long as it
takes. The Shox are strong, relentless and physical — basically, the
closest thing the Valley has to Michigan State. But what they haven’t
been, at least up until the last two weeks, is a great jump-shooting
team. Wichita endured a scoring drought of almost seven minutes in the
second half of a regional final win over Ohio State, allowing the
Buckeyes to chip a 20-point second-half lead down to just three.
According to stat guru Ken Pomeroy, Louisville is the most efficient
defensive team in the country; Even if you do break the press, you’ve
got 6-11 center Gorgui Dieng in the paint to try and shoot over. Like
the Cardinals, the Shockers are better offensively when they can turn an
opponent over and get easy buckets in transition. But against
Louisville, nothing figures to come easy.

 
2. The
Cardinal Press

 
The
Shockers survived 40 minutes of “Havoc” last November 13, winning at
Virginia Commonwealth, 53-51. Still, Wichita also turned the rock over
13 times in that contest, and Louisville has the big-time length up
front — the Shox outboarded VCU, 35-32 — that the Rams didn’t. For the
season, Wichita ranks just 216th nationally in turnovers per game (12.7)
and just 198th in overall turnover percentage (19.5). The Shockers have
multiple players who can handle the ball, yet Marshall has put an awful
lot of trust as of late in the hands of freshman guard Fred VanVleet.
The first-year Illinois native played only four minutes in that VCU
victory and turned it over three times during that stretch, so chances
are good he’ll be tested by Pitino’s defensive
gameplan.
 
3.
The First-Time Factor

 
As good a story as
Marshall and his Shockers are, experience counts when the lights burn at
their brightest: Since the 2000 Big Dance, first-time coaches in the
Final Four have posted a combined record of 7-17. No 9 seed has ever
reached the championship game, and of the three teams to make a Final
Four with a lower seed than Wichita State, none danced all the way to
the title tilt. The Shox are carrying the flag for every underdog in the
nation right now, and that can become an awfully heavy burden once
you’ve reached college hoops’ biggest stage. Just ask George Mason and
VCU.
 
You can follow Sean Keeler on
Twitter @seankeeler or email him at
seanmkeeler@gmail.com