An entertaining game in the Midwest region out in Omaha on Friday afternoon between the No. 7 Wichita State Shockers and the No. 10 Indiana Hoosiers ended with an 81-76 Wichita State win. With 27 points, Fred VanVleet provided one of the five or six best games of his career, and it couldn’t have come at a better time because it afforded his team of course the opportunity to stay alive.
Staying alive for Wichita State means the next step gives college hoops fans the most anticipated game of the weekend.
Consider this. For the second straight NCAA Tournament, this Wichita State program will play the most eagerly awaited game of the entire bracket in the Round of 32.
And like last year, it will come against a blue blood.
UK last year, KU on Sunday.
In 2014, the top-seeded Shockers ran into No. 8 Kentucky. The result was the best game of the 2014 tournament, a 78-76 Kentucky win. And now? No. 2 Kansas awaits. Even though WSU was undefeated last season heading into that Kentucky game, it’s reasonable to say this next matchup is even bigger and means even more.
Big brother? No. These schools are not related, and they are not rivals. You can’t call the Jayhawks a rival because Kansas hasn’t played Wichita State in 23 years. It won’t do it.
And it has no reason to.
Kansas does not benefit in any way by playing Wichita State. It does not earn any more money, acclaim any more praise, get any more recruits or boost its schedule.
The only thing it would/will get more of as a result of playing the Shockers: headlines. And we’ve now got them in spades. The last time these two teams played, it was on Jan. 6, 1993. Kansas won 103-54.
The KU program has quite enjoyed sitting on that note for more than two decades. Wichita State gets to atone, its fans get the shot they’ve waited eons for.
So here we go. The fact these two schools will be squared off in the NCAA Tournament provides great drama with real consequence. Bill Self has lost in the first weekend numerous times over the years. Bradley, Bucknell, Northern Iowa and, last year, Stanford, have put the kibosh on Kansas’ title hopes before ever getting to a Sweet 16. All those losses have stung, and Kansas fans remember them just as much as the 2008 national championship win.
Now comes Wichita State, underseeded as a 7 and flashing danger. I’m giddy. For a number of reasons, KU and WSU fans are already thinking, Get me to Sunday please. Now.”
The biggest college basketball games normally come in the second and third weekend of the NCAAs. But not this time. You could make the case this game will be bigger than any matchup this year in the Sweet 16. And within the state of Kansas, it amounts to one of the biggest games ever.
You can’t ask for a better backdrop and more enticing dramatics than this. Self vs. Gregg Marshall. One modern coaching legend going up against another who’s pretty much one more deep tournament run away from being the same. And Marshall would clearly hit legend status forever if his Shockers knock off No. 2 Kansas on Sunday in Omaha.
Yet again, the NCAA Tournament delivers. It always does.