NCAA: Wichita State’s “Groundhog Day” vs. Cal-Poly’s “Whirlwind”

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Wichita State's head basketball coach Gregg Marshall and guard Ron Baker share a laugh during a practice session on the Scottrade Center floor in St. Louis on March 20, 2014. Wichita State and seven other teams will play in the 2014 NCAA Division 1 Basketball Championship second and third rounds beginning on March 21. UPI/Bill Greenblatt

(ST. LOUIS/KTVI) You almost get the sense that Wichita State Head Coach Gregg Marshall could give a tour of downtown St. Louis if he really had to. The Shockers have been regular players in the Gateway City via their play in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament here as well as a regular season stop against St. Louis University earlier this season. One year after a run to the Final Four as the underdog, Marshall’s club continues its run Friday at an undefeated perfect season as the hunted number one seed in the Midwest region at Scottrade. Wichita State faces Cal-Poly (14-19), the Midwest’s 16th seed, which forced its way into the field as the only team with a losing record by winning the Big West conference championship and with a win Wednesday against Texas Southern in the tournament’s opening round in Dayton. As for Marshall’s club, not much has changed since the team left the arena last week as MVC tournament champions.

“Shocker fans know their way to St. Louis, which is good.  Our guys are familiar with the court and the hotel, and it’s like we were just here,” Marshall told reporters Thursday, 11 days after his team cut down the nets at Scottrade.

“They know us,” Marshall said of the staff at the Westin Hotel, where the team always stays during the Valley tournament. “We know exactly where the meeting room is.  The same meeting room, the same breakfast this morning.  It’s kind of like ‘Groundhog Day.'”

“You want to take any advantage you can get.  But really, it is just about going out there and playing,” said Shocker guard Fred VanVleet, the MVC’s Player of the Year. “It’s good to be in a familiar place. Now, whether that affects us any different than any other teams, we don’t know.  But just going to control what we can control and get ready to go play.”

Contrast that time off and familiarity with routine with Cal-Poly, which is in the tournament for the first time in school history. Head Coach Joe Callero recounted the last 24 or so hours for FOX2 when his team beat Texas Southern Wednesday night in a game that ended at approximately 7:53 St. Louis time:

“We win a big game, go to the press conference, from the NCAA to the administrators to assistant coaches, says, Coach, we have to go.  We gotta go.  Okay, can I get a glass of water?  Can we walk out to the bus?  The bus takes off back to the hotel.  The coaches decide we have to order pizzas at the hotel.  Everybody goes back to the hotel and starts packing and we got about 45 minutes from the time we got back from the hotel, packed up, my wife and daughter are traveling with us.  She said, Well, I was preparing to pack like we might leave, but I didn’t want to jinx it, so we just throwing everything in there.  Got the bus at 10:45, got to the airport at 11:30, took off by midnight.”

“We caught an hour back, that was nice, flying west we got an extra hour.  Landed around 12:30, 1:00. Took the bus to the Hilton downtown, found our keys, got everybody in their room and decompressed and kind of had to review the plan for the next day.  And got back to my room about 1:30.  Sat down and kind of went, Wow, you know, five hours ago we were getting ready to play a game to see if the season will be over.”

“Not only do you play a game, win a game, get an NCAA victory, a tournament victory, but within four or five hours you are in another whole city in a different apartment pulling clothes out of your bag, going, All right, where do I hang this up”

“Talk about whirlwinds.  Probably the best for us though.  Having a week to think of Wichita State and a nationally‑ranked team, I think it could work against you.  You hear so much about, you know, how great they are.  You know what?  At the end of the day we have to go play the game. “

“And the last part is we woke up this morning and we found out one of our great assistant coaches was smart enough to tweet Ozzie Smith, who is a Cal Poly alum.  So anybody in St. Louis who knows who Ozzie Smith is, we have a Cal Poly alum who we will hopefully meet with today, tonight, tomorrow or before the game.  If that is not a reason for St. Louis to cheer for the Mustangs, I don’t know what it is going to be. “

Could the Mustangs be the first 16 seed ever to topple a number one? The team’s sub-500 record masks a club which knows what it’s like to play top level competition, having faced Oregon, Stanford, Arizona, Hawaii and Pittsburgh in regular season play, and beat UCLA last season. Getting two players, Senior guard Kyle Odister, who missed significant time with a broken foot, and Sophomore guard Reese Morgan, who was out with an ACL injury, has been key for a team that relies on getting the right shot.

Marshall compared the Mustangs favorably to what his team faced against Missouri State in Missouri Valley Conference play, particularly on defense. VanVleet said his team’s experience throughout the season, as it reinforced the notion burnished last season that it was no longer the underdog, but a team to be hunted, will serve it well here in St. Louis.

“All of these guys are pretty calm, laid‑back guys at the end of the day.  And that experience, that confidence allows you to not run out of your shoes in certain situations and allows you to stay in the moment, understand what it takes to get out of adverse situations, and understand what it takes to extend leads and keep leads and things like that.”

The winner takes on the winner of Kentucky-Kansas State on Sunday.