CLEVELAND — Thanks to an offensive performance that was as gorgeous as it was lethal, Mike Brey will be coaching in his first Elite Eight come Saturday night.
And for the Notre Dame program, its first regional final in 36 years.
The third-seeded Fighting Irish picked a great time to put on one of their prettiest performances of the season, knocking off beloved Wichita State 81-70 on Thursday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
After elbowing with a shrewd Shockers team through the first 20 minutes, the Irish blew open a three-point halftime lead when their second half started with 15 of their first 17 shots going down. Jerian Grant, who may well be a lottery pick this June, became the first Notre Dame player to finish an NCAA Tournament game with double-digit assists (11).
For the Irish and for Brey, a long-awaited breakthrough — with Kentucky the likely dragon standing between them and the school’s first (and only) Final Four since 1978.
But with Wichita State losing here, all of the attention — if it wasn’t there already in the days leading up to this game — turns to what Gregg Marshall will do. His future is the story now. He will have options, very possibly at more than two schools. Marshall spent nine years at Winthrop before taking a deep breath and finally leaving. He didn’t want to, really, but he saw a ceiling that couldn’t be broken at Winthrop. No matter the wins, no matter the NCAA Tournament appearances (he took the Eagles to seven Big Dance appearances in nine seasons and openly admits it was discouraging how nobody cared outside the quaint hamlet of Rock Hill, S.C.), there was only so much he could do, so much recognition and prestige he could bring to that program on a national level.
Marshall’s eighth season at Wichita State just ended. He’s losing a tremendous player in Tekele Cotton, but he’s got another two juniors — all-time players in the history of the program — in Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker. Some wonder if the shaggy-haired Baker will take his shot at the NBA Draft this spring.
Will that affect Marshall’s decision?
Not nearly like the money and invigoration of a new challenge.
Does he need it, though? What Marshall’s done at Wichita State is create a national profile, and team that is getting closer by the month to being perceived on the same level as Butler and Gonzaga.
He’s on record that he’ll be forced to listen to Alabama’s call when it comes. If it’s some type of “crazy offer.”
It will be. And now we wait. With this game over, with Wichita State’s season over, what is Marshall going to say? How long will he take to make what will be likely the most crucial coaching decision of his life?