Wichita State is just the fifth team seeded ninth or higher to make the Final Four since seeding began in 1979, and they are the first Missouri Valley Conference team to make it this far since Indiana State (led by future Hall of Famer Larry Bird) that same year. The Shockers have put together a strong defensive effort thus far in the NCAA Tournament, allowing just over 62 points per game through four games and less than 60 twice.
Here’s a look at Wichita State’s path to Atlanta and the 2013 Final Four.
Second Round- Pittsburgh
Final Score: 73-55
Wichita State held Panthers’ leading scorer Tray Woodall to just two points (1-for-12 from the floor), and the entire Pittsburgh team shot just over 35 percent from the floor while making just one of 17 attempts from beyond the arc. The Shockers also had a distinct advantage from the free-throw line, making 33-of-41 attempts while Pittsburgh went 16-for-20.
Guard Malcolm Armstead led the Shockers in scoring with 22 points (along with five assists and three rebounds), with forwards Cleanthony Early (21 points, seven rebounds and one steal off the bench) and Carl Hall (11 points and six rebounds) also playing prominent roles.
Third Round: Gonzaga
Final Score: 76-70
The Shockers were faced with trying to take down the West Region’s No. 1 seed (and top-ranked in the country) Bulldogs in the Round of 32, but they were up to the task. A 13-point first half lead became an eight-point deficit with less than 12 minutes to go, but Wichita State outscored Gonzaga 35-21 from that point on to pull the upset.
Early (16 points and seven rebounds) and Ron Baker (16 points, six rebounds and four assists) combined to go 8-for-13 on three-pointers in the game, with guard Fred VanVleet (13 points and three assists) and Hall (10 points, three blocked shots and two assists) also scoring in double-figures.
Sweet 16: La Salle
Final Score: 72-58
It was a matchup of Cinderellas with the No. 13 seed Explorers, but it was clear from the start who was the better team when Wichita State opened the game on a 14-2 run and led by 16 at halftime. La Salle made less than 36 percent of their shots from the floor (20-for-56), and simply could not mount a comeback despite solid three-point proficiency (7-for-18).
Armstead was the Shockers’ leading scorer with 18 points along with six rebounds, four assists and two steals. Hall (16 points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots) and Baker (13 points, four rebounds and two assists) were also key contributors.
Elite Eight: Ohio State
Final Score: 70-66
Another game brought another fast start for Wichita State. They led the Buckeyes by 13 at halftime (35-22) and by as much as 20 in the second half before holding on with some key plays late.
The Shockers had a balanced attack in the game, led by Armstead (14 points, seven assists, three rebounds and three steals), Early (12 points, seven rebounds, two blocked shots and one steal) and VanVleet (12 points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals). Hall also had eight points, six blocked shots and four rebounds as a key cog in the team’s defensive effort.
A Look Ahead
The fast starts that have become Wichita State’s trademark to this point in the tournament will surely have to continue in the Final Four. But any chance to upset Louisville in the first game Saturday night will require a full 40 minutes of high-level play, and we will now see if the Shockers can handle a significant step up in level of competition.
Brad Berreman is a contributing writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.