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The Shockers’ place in the history of the bracket phenomenon

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Wichita State redshirt senior Zach Bush celebrates a soon to be Shocker victory.

Wichita State redshirt senior Zach Bush celebrates a soon to be Shocker victory.

Hannah Roberts

Hannah Roberts

Wichita State redshirt senior Zach Bush celebrates a soon to be Shocker victory.

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It started in a bar on Staten Island, New York, forty years ago. A pool of 88 people filled out a bracket that year, each paying $10 dollars in a winner-takes-all format.

Forty years later, more than 60 million Americans fill out NCAA brackets each year. The tournament, which had 32 teams in 1977, has expanded to include 68 teams. Office pools, online pools with huge jackpots and cell phone apps that allow people from across the world to access and fill out a bracket, have helped create a cultural tradition with no end in sight.

Wichita State didn’t make the tournament in 1977. By 1981, powered by all-time Shocker greats Cliff Levingston and Antoine Carr, both sophomores, Wichita State made a run to the Elite Eight, where they lost to Louisiana State. A six-seed, the Shockers blew by Southern University-Baton Rouge in the first round 95-70, then defeated power house Iowa in the field of 32 and eventually devastated the University of Kansas Jayhawks in the Sweet Sixteen on a last-second jumper by guard Mike Jones.

In 1979, Larry Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores tipped-off the biggest game in college basketball history against Magic Johnson’s Michigan State Spartans. All of the sudden, college basketball became a national buzz. Little-known Indiana State, led by “The hick from French Lick,” became one of the first true Cinderella stories of the NCAA tournament (even though Indiana State competed in the Missouri Valley and had gone undefeated that year).

Following first round exits in 1985, 1987 and 1988, the Shockers didn’t make another run at a championship until 2006, when they became a Cinderella story only to be escorted from the Big Dance by an even more unlikely princess—George Mason—in the Sweet Sixteen.

In that context, the Shockers’ run of six years straight (from 2012 to this year) has been truly remarkable. But, unlike in years past, Wichita State should no longer be considered an underdog, or a bracket buster, or a Cinderella story. No Selection Sunday fairy godmother needs to wave her magic wand to sneak the Shockers into the tournament.

By now, with a sixth straight NCAA tournament appearance, when tens of millions of Americans go to fill out their brackets they won’t need a glass slipper to identify Wichita State.

This year, the Shockers have a ticket to the dance.

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