It’s all over. Wichita State‘s magical yet overlooked run in the 2013 NCAA Tournament came to an end in heartbreaking fashion in the Final Four against Louisville. If Florida Gulf Coast hadn’t advanced to the Sweet 16, the world would have been going crazy about the Shockers instead. But on Saturday night, Wichita State proved it doesn’t care how it’s perceived while also showing it’s the best NCAA Tournament Cinderella team of all time.
How can that be, you ask? Well, let’s look at the previous best: Butler from 2010 and 2011. Butler came out of nowhere as a No. 5 seed in 2010 and leaned heavily on Gordon Hayward, who was a lottery pick in that year’s NBA Draft. Yes, that team advanced to the title game and came up six inches short of becoming the best ever Cinderella team, but didn’t. In addition, Butler didn’t dominate any part of that game against the best team in the country. The following year, Butler got back to the title game, but never even came close to topping UConn.
Now that’s no disrespect to Butler. The Bulldogs were incredible in both tournaments and became America’s college basketball team for about 14 months. But those Butler teams lacked one critical factor that defined Wichita State this past March: swagger.
The Shockers didn’t just win with superb defense and fundamentals, they did it with style. There was no one player who carried them. There were no lucky breaks or quiet wins. Wichita State dominated its opponents during large portions of its victories over No. 8 Pittsburgh, No. 1 Gonzaga, No. 13 La Salle, No. 2 Ohio State and even No. 1 Louisville in the national semifinal. Indeed, the Cardinals had to rally from a 16-point deficit in the second half to barely beat the Shockers by four.
Wichita State had incredible preparation for the contest and beat Louisville at its own game until about the 34-minute mark. The Shockers were incredibly physical and played together like a brick wall on defense while knocking down big shots and collecting a ton of offensive rebounds, which turned into a a plethora of second-chance points. It wasn’t until Russ Smith, arguably the best player in the country, took over with less than a minute left that Wichita State lost its grip.
The Shockers don’t have one player like Smith who can take over a game; instead, they relied on incredible teamwork to take the best team in the country to the brink. Wichita State was really two questionable calls away from knocking Louisville off and just came up with the short end of the stick. But it was the way the Shockers plowed their way to the Final Four and then battled the Cardinals toe to toe that makes them the best NCAA Tournament Cinderella team of all time. Really and truly, they should have been more like a No. 3 seed because that’s how they played.
Wichita State may have come up short in the biggest game in school history, but that team left it all on the floor and showed it was the best team among all the Cinderellas throughout history. Let’s put it this way: if all the great Cinderella teams met in one tournament, this 2013 Wichita State team would win every game by double digits. They don’t have the ring to prove it, but the Shockers are the G.O.A.T. in that book.