Shockers end eight-week drought, return to AP Polls

On Monday, the AP Polls ranked Wichita State No. 22, ending an eight-week long drought.

This did not happen overnight. WSU head coach Gregg Marshall was persistent in reaching this level of play for years before enjoying the benefits and recognition of that effort.

In the third week of January 2013, freshman Fred VanVleet laced up in front of a sell-out crowd in Charles Koch Arena as the Shockers hosted conference rival No. 12 Creighton.

With a 17-2 record and a win over a ranked opponent, the team was recognized with national attention once again, ranked No. 20 in the AP Polls and No. 21 in the Coaches Polls.

There was a certain passion in the air to win that 17th game of the season. The team was determined to do something more than give a ranked opponent a devastating loss.  

Marshall’s rising team was fighting for national recognition. The team had received votes in the AP Poll two weeks earlier, a week before they stood at No. 23 in the polls before quickly finding their way out on a road loss at Evansville.

The 2012-13 Shockers took down the Bluejays in historic fashion, a defensive stop by VanVleet pushed the team to a final second victory 67-64.

Then the conversation started.

Flustering with losses throughout the remainder of the season, the team fell out of the top rankings, but Marshall and his young stars knew the recognition was more than just a head start.

At the start of the 2013-14, the Shockers entered the season with a No. 16 preseason ranking, and it would only get better. In one of college basketball’s most triumphant seasons, Marshall led his team to a No. 2 ranking to end the season with a 34-0 record.

The trend continued the next year. Marshall’s mantra would engineer national attention for countless weeks. Despite four losses, the Shockers would stay ranked for the season and end at No. 14.

With the return of All-Americans VanVleet and Ron Baker, expectations didn’t change, nor did any national attention.

The Shockers entered the season No. 10 in the AP rankings. After an early- season loss in Tulsa, the team dropped 10 hefty spaces to No. 20 and the atmosphere became testy.

With a nagging hamstring injury pulling VanVleet from Marshall’s arsenal and freshman standout Landry Shamet being held out with injury, the team fell for three-straight losses in Orlando in the fourth week of the season.

All-Americans VanVleet and Baker stood on the outside looking in at the AP Polls for the first time in 42 weeks, previously the third-longest active streak in college basketball.

The team standing with their backs to the wall, looked to the open hand of their eighth-year coach as he preached lessons of revival and redemption.

Led by the swift ankles of a healthy VanVleet, the team started winning. In the twelfth week of the season, the Shockers rallied together over a month of victories (ten games in a row) to push the team back into the national conversation.

The product of leadership by veteran All-Americans and rising depth from the bench, the Shockers have built talent from Shaq Morris, Markis McDuffie and Conner Frankamp. All the missing pieces from November are now present, a team built to make its mark in March.

Back in the conversation, but nothing to change the spirit of the Shockers.

“It doesn’t matter,” said Marshall. “It only gives other teams more incentive to beat you when you come into their court when you have a number by your name.”

Fans love the recognition. It’s the claim to fame that settles them right back down to earth. But the attention is an afterthought on the backburner of Gregg Marshall’s focus right now.

“I don’t think that if you get into the tournament, it has any bearing on where you’re seeded,” said Marshall. “I don’t believe they even consider it.”

The Shockers were No. 14 in the polls last season before being seeded a seventh seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Though the spotlight shines down on the Shockers once again, the team will gear their attention to mounting streaks of success that have been the tradition of Shocker basketball in recent years.

“We still give our best shot, regardless,” said Marshall. “We know we will be challenged from here on out.”

Contributing: Evan Pflugradt