Not long ago, Wichita State was one of the many Cinderellas that embarked on the NCAA Tournament with dreams of knocking off a favored, national powerhouse. In their seventh consecutive Tournament appearance under coach Gregg Marshall, with three Sweet 16 runs, a No. 1 seed and a Final Four trip, the Shockers have transformed into one of those typically favored national powers.
Now, Wichita State aims to ward off a would-be Cinderella in Conference USA automatic qualifier, Marshall. Alum and longtime high school coach-turned-NBA assistant Dan D'Antoni leads the Thundering Herd to their first NCAA Tournament since a vacated appearance in 1987.
Marshall and Wichita State bring two of the most potentially prolific offenses in college basketball into their First Round matchup at San Diego's Viejas Arena. The Thundering Herd rank No. 12 nationally in points per game, while the Shockers boast the No. 4 most efficient offense, per KenPom.com.
East Region: No. 13 Marshall Thundering Herd (24-10) vs. No. 4 Wichita State Shockers (25-7)
Time: 1:30 p.m. ET (Friday)
Where: Viejas Arena (San Diego)
Keys for Marshall
Dan D'Antoni's brother, Mike, helped usher in a new era for offensive style in the NBA. His tenure with the Phoenix Suns in the mid-2000s emphasized fast breaks on every possession, with all possessions aiming toward either shot attempts in the lane, or from behind the 3-point line.
Marshall plays with that philosophy. The Thundering Herd attempted a staggering 963 3-pointers en route to the NCAA Tournament, and caught fire at the C-USA Tournament. They connected on 43 percent of attempts in both the semifinal win over Southern Miss, and the championship game defeat of Western Kentucky.
As much as Marshall shoots the 3-pointer, however, the Herd are actually wildly effective when they get looks from inside the arc. The former sets up the latter, so knocking down some deep balls early will be critical for Marshall to draw out Wichita State's defense. The Shockers ranked No. 164 nationally defending the 3-pointer, so they are vulnerable against Marshall's key offensive principle.
Keys for Wichita State
Wichita State has an advantage virtually across the board against Marshall. The Shockers boast the more talented lineup, greater depth, play a more physical brand of basketball and even shoot the 3-pointer with more consistency (38.5 percent vs. 35.8 percent).
Key in such a matchup in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament is for the stronger team to assert its dominance early. Wichita State cannot allow Marshall hope for an upset, and that means limiting turnovers -- the Shockers excel in ball control with a turnover percentage of 16.4 -- as well as controlling the glass.
The Shockers are one of the best rebounding teams in the country, with Rashard Kelly, Darral Willis Jr., Shaq Morris, Landry Shamet and Markis McDuffie all contributing. Keeping the Herd off the boards will limit fast-break opportunities and allow Wichita State to control the tempo.
Prolific 3-point shooting teams can catch fire and go on surprise runs in the NCAA Tournament run. For that reason, Marshall has hope to shock the world in 2018. However, Wichita State's top-to-bottom strength gives it a clear edge.
The Shockers can out-muscle the Herd to establish pace in what should be a high-scoring contest. In a track meet, Wichita State should cruise.
Prediction: Wichita State 89, Marshall 70
(Top photo courtesy of GoShockers.com)