Gregg Marshall’s thrill of defying the odds carried into First Four

Evan Pflugradt

Dayton, Ohio — There’s something special that comes with defying the odds that Gregg Marshall can’t seem to get enough of. He must love being the underdog — give him a chance, that’s all he really wants.

That chance came on Sunday in a two-hour special Selection Sunday premiere on CBS. Wichita State on the bubble on bracket, was sifted into the pool and thrown out 12 hours away in Dayton, Ohio, for the First Four, a Tuesday night game against No. 11 seeded Vanderbilt in the first game of the South region.

“It’s the first time as an at-large that I’ve been sent to Dayton,” Marshall said. “Obviously that means that we’re one of the last four in, I’m kind of used to that by now.”

It’s far from glorious. Marshall said he was disappointed in the seeding, firmly holding belief his team was suited for a No. 8, 9 or even 10 seeding. It’s the slight chip on the shoulder WSU flourishes with, and Marshall said he hopes to use it to his advantage.

Running on a week, what feels like a year, of sleep-deprived nights, hoping, waiting for a destination, a seeding and an opponent, Marshall wants to calm, but things are still far from where WSU’s winningest coach, Marshall,  plans to call it quits.

“As long as we’re in the NCAA Tournament and we continue playing, I’ll be fine,” he said.

No. 11 seeded Wichita State, playing for first round game with Sean Miller’s No. 6 seeded Arizona on Thursday, will need to get by Vanderbilt in the first round.

The extra game certainly doesn’t simplify Marshall’s plans, in fact, statistically it complicates them. Since 2005 two teams in the First Four have played in a Sweet 16, both of those teams however, played in Wednesday’s series of games. The Shockers tip at approximately 8:10 p.m. on Tuesday.

With his group of remaining seniors from his historic Final Four run in 2013, Marshall wants to play, more importantly, he wants to defy the odds. And with a testament to his season, one filled with adversity, critics are in doubt, wondering yet again whether or not Marshall will shock them.  

“This season, going in there’s expectations, you’ve got two seniors coming back that had options to go play professionally, high preseason ranking, and then in a closed scrimmage Fred VanVleet pulls a hamstring,” he said. “I think it’s a testament to dealing with adversity.”

Stepping into a 13,409 seat arena in Dayton, strobe lights preparing and television operators practicing trial set-ups, he’s ready to put an 18-week season of adversity behind him, part of the field of 68, he said he wants to prove he’s part of no fluke.

“Now it’s on us to play and hopefully advance and prove that we belong,” he said.

In nine days of rest since their departure from St. Louis, Marshall has prepared sentiments of moral-boosting comradery, what he claims, is the winner’s advantage in a tournament he hopes can be prolonged and sustained for weeks.  

“The practices were short, but intense,” Marshall said. “We did work on the mental game this past week, we had a lot of time to do that. The film study was longer and very telling, very honest, very open. If we’re going to make a run, we’re going to have a handful or more of good performances tomorrow, and then if we get a chance to go to Providence, it’s got to happen there, too. You have one bad day in this tournament and you’re done.”

He wants to be honest with his team, their 2-24 three-point performance that cut their Missouri Valley Conference Tournament run short, the lead topic of discussion. In high spirited hopes of advancing, defying odds and boarding a plane to Providence, Rhode Island, he’s bracing for a performance better than his last trip to Dayton.

“I’ve been here before, 2001, with Winthrop in what I believe was the very first game of the NCAA Tournament,” Marshall said. “We lost that game. Great atmosphere, that game, and I’m sure it will be wonderful tomorrow.”