It is tough in March to keep an eye on all that needs eyes kept: your own team, your next possible opponent, the 4 possible next opponents, and so on. Even harder: the possible Final Four opponent from usually 1-4 teams. Well, the West Region being a dumpster fire in general made it even harder, and it is no shock that our opponent in the Final Four is the Wichita State Shockers - a 9 seed that beat the 8, 1, 11 and 2 seeds in convincing enough fashion that their seed does not really reflect their relative strength as a basketball team. Indeed, they beat our common opponents by larger margins than we did. Not just a drubbing of Pitt in the first round, but two beat downs of Illinois State and a drubbing of Northern Iowa as well. They even had their own DePaul Day, winning 75-62 back in November. So, this is not a team to overlook.
Here's a video with highlights of their NCAA tournament run:
Each of their tournament wins were with different strengths, it seems. Against Pitt, they shot a shockingly low percentage (2-20, 10%) from 3 that would be the worst shooting of the day, but for their opponent. Pitt shot 1-17 (5.9%) from 3 and 19-54 from the field overall, and the two teams combined to shoot 61 free throws! Gross! WSU was 33-41 from the line (41!!!!) and Pitt was 16-20. Now, we all know Pitt is the worst and their style of basketball, to the extent you can call it that, benefits from Big East refs and is hurt by normal human refs, to the extent there are any, but no shocker here, if WSU shoots 41 FTs against us I think there will be riots in Atlanta. I'll riot is what I'm saying. Let's just move on.
To the game that really sparked WSU's run: a 76-70 defeat of #1 seed Gonzaga. WSU shot 14-28 from 3 point range, 25-50 from the floor and 12-18 from the FT line, holding Gonzaga to 21-59 (35.6%), 8-23 (34.8%) and 20-29 (69%) from the field, 3 point line and free throw line, respectively. This was a shocking display of shooting for WSU as they were a 34% 3 point shooting team on the season (placing them 169th nationally) and averaged 19 3s a game. Again, if they attempt 28 threes against us I would be sho- (okay enough of that) surprised, and if they made 14 of those 28 it is going to be very tough to beat them. Cleanthony Early and Ron Baker were their 2 hot shooting guys in that game (8-13 from 3 between them), and guards Tekele Cotton and Fred Van Vleet made 4 of their 7 3s (2-3 and 2-4) so it came from lots of places.
They cooled down against LaSalle from 3, but won with rebounding (44-23 on the glass) and 2 pointers (30-67 overall, only 5-12 from 3 and 7-9 from the line). So, they can win in different ways is what I'm saying.
Against Ohio State, they won in this way: a run at the end of the first half, a 20 point lead with 11:01 remaining, and then holding the ball and trying to run out the clock and fouling OSU and letting them score until it got to a 3 point game with 2:49 left, and then making the plays they needed to make (offensive rebounding, making shots, defending OSU, etc.) to gut out a win and make it to the Fina Four. I watched the end of the first half and start of the second, and they made their run by just being better than Ohio State - handling pressure, getting to the rim, making 3s, etc.
Statistically speaking, WSU does not jump out at you, but their tournament has been played on a different level than their regular season so it is hard to tell. They aren't incredibly deep, but they have good guards and talent all over the floor.
More later, but at some point we have to think about actual basketball again, and losing to Wichita State in the Final Four is a real possibility on a pure basketball, X-and-O level.