Asked about any parallels between the current undefeated run by top seeded Kentucky and his Wichita State squad’s streak last season, which was eventually shutdown by the Wildcats in the second round of last year’s NCAA tournament, head coach Gregg Marshall told reporters he saw a few.
“The similarities between us and Kentucky? They wear shorts and tank tops and sneakers, and we do the same. I don't know what type hair gel Cal uses, but he uses something, a little bit of product, I use a little product,” Marshall said Wednesday, tongue-in-cheek. “His suits are probably a little more expensive. I don't know if there's many similarities other than that. We have -- we have our own niche in college basketball, and they have their own niche. He does a wonderful job as well as anyone with their niche. We try to do the same with ours.”
Clearly a potential matchup and chance to knock off the top seeded Wildcats looms over the Sweet 16 matchup between the No. 7 seed Wichita State Shockers and No. 3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Thursday night, but Marshall has his team focused squarely on perhaps the most dangerous Irish squad he’s seen.
“Yeah, I talked to my staff, I coached against Mr. [Mike] Brey, Coach Brey, in 2007 and loved his team then but I think this is a better team,” Marshall said. “That was when they were in the Big East, they had two first team all-conference guys and plus a young post player by the name of (Luke) Harangody that turned out to be pretty good. This group, they've got five guys on the floor that can all score the basketball, they can all shoot it, most of them can drive it, they're tough.”
After the at Midwest Region semifinal at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio, the Shockers or Irish will advance to face either No. 1 Kentucky or No. 5 West Virginia on Saturday for a shot at the Final Four.
Wichita State hasn’t exactly coasted in the tournament, but they have faced some of the nation’s most heralded and talented programs. The Shockers sent Big Ten heavyweight No. 10 Indiana packing in the tournament opener 81-76, and then bounced Big-12 champion and No. 2 Kansas 78-65 thanks to an astounding 10-for-20 night from the three-point arc.
Against the Jayhawks specifically, Wichita State showed why it’s one of the top-to-bottom deepest and most versatile teams in the tournament. All five Shockers starters scored double-digits, and six of the nine players that saw the floor recorded at least one steal.
The Shockers are led by junior guards Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet, with VanVleet putting up 17 points against Kansas and matching his career-high of 27 points versus Indiana. Baker bounced back from a poor 3-for-13 shooting night, including an 0-for-5 mark from deep, against Indiana to shoot 50 percent from the field for 12 points against Kansas. Senior guard Tekele Cotton also put up a season-high 19 points in the Kansas win.
Notre Dame is coming off an emotional win for Brey, whose mother Betty Brey passed away hours before the team’s thrilling 67-64 third round overtime victory over No. 6 Butler.
"There is such a good vibe and positive energy coming off this team, it's really good for me to be around it this week and get back and be busy and teach," Brey said Wednesday.
The Irish are currently enjoying their first trip to the Sweet 16 in 12 years, and with a determined and balanced squad could advance to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1978’s run to the Final Four.
Powered by All-ACC first-teamer and senior guard Jerian Grant, Notre Dame carried its conference tournament title momentum into the NCAAs and escaped past an inspired Northeastern squad 69-65 and downed the postseason-tested Bulldogs.
Grant has hovered around his season averages of 16.8 points and 6.6 assists in the last two games, coming up with clutch baskets in overtime, and has received a huge boost from sophomore guard Steve Vasturia, forward Zach Auguste and swingman Pat Connaughton.
Start Time: 7:15 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Live Online Stream: A live online stream is available at the tournament’s official site here.
Betting Odds: Wichita State -1.5
Over/Under: 137 points
Prediction: Notre Dame over Wichita State, 67-62