Wichita State Coach Gregg Marshall talked to reporters Saturday about the Shockers’ second-round NCAA Tournament game against the Kentucky Wildcats on Sunday:
Q. I asked the players, and they gave the reaction I expected. Do you ever look ahead in the bracket to see who’s down the road, potentially? And how much fun is it for you personally to be on this kind of a stage where you’re playing some of these elite programs that you get to play here?
GREGG MARSHALL: Well, when the bracket first comes out, the first thing you look at is what city are you going to and what day are you going to play. In this case, we were able to -- last year, we had to immediately pack up and basically leave Sunday night, Monday morning, to get to Dayton to play Tuesday. We played Tuesday late night, Thursday late night and the first game on Saturday in Providence, Rhode Island.
This year, we got a lot more time to prepare for a Friday evening tip. So we got to Indianapolis. We knew it was Dayton. We knew we had our hands full, so we poured the majority of our energy into that game from a staff perspective.
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But we also saw Kentucky, we saw UCLA, I think North Carolina, Louisville or Kansas as a likely path to the Final Four. So we just, you know, we’re going to play it one game at a time.
Kentucky and Northern Kentucky was a really good game last night. I thought John Brannen’s team fought really hard, probably just missed too many shots. But Kentucky is expected, prevailed, and now we have an opportunity to play one of the great programs in the country.
So we’re excited, and this will be a great opportunity for us, and we just need to go out and play well.
Q. We were chuckling a little bit. Some of the players were talking about wanting Nike Elite to recognize them and then you came in with a Nike Elite shirt. It sounds a bit like they’ve got a bit of a chip on their shoulder when it comes to that stuff, big, bad Kentucky. Is that kind of the attitude you want them to have going into a game like this?
GREGG MARSHALL: We have some Nike Elite stuff. I have to take the big stage in order to wear it. We’re excited about that. Our guys are not your five-star recruits walking in. They understand that they came to our program for a reason, to win and get these opportunities and to get better and grow as people and students and players.
This doesn’t get any better. You’re playing Kentucky. And they’re one of the handful of blue-blood programs in the country. And it’s something crazy like Kentucky, UCLA and North Carolina have 20-something national championships between the three of them, so it’s quite a road.
But you got to take one stop at a time, and the next game is Kentucky on Sunday, and we’re excited about it.
Q. Gregg, can you speak to the coincidence that in 2014, you guys were the 1, they were the 8. The question was, how can Kentucky be an 8. Now it’s the complete reverse. John saying, how can Wichita be the 10? What do you think of that coincidence of this occurring with the same two teams, three years apart?
GREGG MARSHALL: John can’t say that now because it was two days ago that John was saying the seeds are perfect. He can’t go back on that.
Q. He’ll be here shortly. You can tell him.
GREGG MARSHALL: I already have. I don’t know if it’s a coincidence or not. They’ve got quite a sense of humor, then, don’t they, those guys in that room.
The bottom line is the only two guys that remember that game, other than you media people, are Coach Cal and I. Everyone else is new. There might have been a couple of my guys that were freshmen at that point, but can’t think of too many that played in that game that are going to be playing.
I think Willie Caulley-Stein is with Sacramento and Randle is with the Lakers, I hope. And I’ve got a few guys in the NBA from that group as well. In fact, we watched a little bit of that game with our team today just to show them how we countered Kentucky’s size and athleticism.
I mean, you saw Cleanthony Early and Ron Baker and Fred Van Vleet and the Kentucky players I just mentioned. That court was full of NBA guys. It was a tremendous game. I didn’t even realize it until after the game what a great game it was because I hate giving up that many points.
But the way they shot it, the way we shot it, it was back and forth. And it was after that game when everyone says, what a classic game. That may have been one of the best games in X amount of years in the tournament or the best game this year by far in the tournament.
I didn’t feel that, but what I thought was really ironic that year is we were such a polarizing team. We deserve a 1 seed. We don’t deserve a 1 seed. And you’re either on one side of the fence or the other. Then we get the 1 seed, but we get Kentucky as an 8. I think they hedged their bet a little bit.
But in the end, it took a loss to validate our team, which I think is really ironic and sad.
Q. So I know you started that answer by saying players that were in that game, but then you said you actually used the game to exhibit that. How often do you do that to show teams how a coach coaches?
GREGG MARSHALL: Oh, we do that all the time. I mean, we show our team what we can to best represent what they’re going to see or what they’re going to face in a particular game, how they’re going to defend, what their transition is like, what type of breakdown offense that they use.
So we’re trying to get our boys prepared for the mental part of the game, and that’s the last time we played them.
Q. Gregg, Rashard talked about little things as being a key component of what you guys do, like boxing out.
How important are these little things to what you get done and in the tournament itself when there’s good players, obviously, on every team?
GREGG MARSHALL: It’s interesting, Jerry, that a lot of people, and even we refer to them as little things, but those things aren’t so little. Boxing out, communicating on defense, executing -- setting a great screen, being the first to the floor on a loose ball, those aren’t little things, but those are things that you can control.
And I think it’s interesting, if you talk to
Fred Van Vleet and Ron Baker, those are some of the things that help them stick in the NBA. Obviously, they’re great teammates and great, very talented players from a winning program. But they were free agents, and they go to this veterans camp and the coach keeps saying, man, they just keep doing the little things. They check down. If a big guy comes over and tries to block the shot, they come from the perimeter and try to box out the center, who’s left alone.
Those are things that, hopefully, our guys learn in our program that not only help us win, but help them be better pros.
Q. How long does it take the typical player to fully accept and execute the little things?
GREGG MARSHALL: Jerry, it just depends on the player. Some of them come in much more in tune with what it’s going to take to be a successful player in our program or at the next level. But some of them, it takes quite awhile, and it’s just repetition and repetition and letting them know that not doing the little things, they get more time sitting over by me than doing them, and then they get to exhibit all of their other talents and skills.
Q. Gregg, you mentioned all the NBA guys. How much does that help in recruiting now? Like when you go into the living room, are you mentioning these guys right away? And do you notice, are you getting access to a different quality of player as a result of these NBA guys?
GREGG MARSHALL: I think we are because you look at Landry Shamet and Markis McDuffie, for instance, those two guys had some big-time offers. And they looked at the success that we were having as a program, and then the individuals that were having success, go onto the next level. It takes a while to build that.
It wasn’t day one. We were selling a vision early. Now we’re selling reality in what we have accomplished.
Bob, you made an interesting point about playing Kentucky. Well, when we just redid our lobby in our office complex in the last three months, instead of talking about the Elite Eight team in, what was it, ’81 and not to take anything away from Xavier McDaniel and Cliff Levingston and Antoine Carr. We love those guys.
But we started exhibiting the people that we had played, a lot of the teams we had played and beaten, like Arizona and Ohio State and Gonzaga. We also had pictures of the Louisville game and the Kentucky game and the Kansas game and the Indiana game.
That’s who we’ve been playing. When you’re a 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 seed, that’s who you get to play. We’ve seen very few Cal Polys, like we did that first year when we were the number 1 seed.
Q. Gregg, we didn’t see some of the buzzer beaters or fantastic finishes we’re accustomed to seeing the first couple rounds this year. What do you attribute that to, if anything?
GREGG MARSHALL: Myron, I can’t answer that. I’ve been worried about Dayton. I’ve watched very few games. Are you saying the games aren’t close?
Q. It’s not some of the buzzer beaters and big upsets.
GREGG MARSHALL: I don’t know. I think it’s a fluke. Maybe you’ll see more in the second round. I have no idea.
Q. Gregg, what stands out about Bam Adebayo down low and what kind of matchup will that be like with him and Shaquille?
GREGG MARSHALL: He’s a mountain of a man. He is a huge guy. He likes to jump higher than anybody on the court and dunk it through the basket. You can’t let him do that. You’ve got to keep a body on him, and you’ve got to box him out and put some doubt in his mind when he gets it low in the post, what’s going to happen next.
And Shaq’s got to be smart, and he’s a little older and more mature, hopefully, and he can make him have to make some decisions how to guard us.
Q. Gregg, Kentucky’s had some inconsistencies this year, individual players and, also, as a team, highs and lows in games. How much more difficult does that make a team to appraise and figure out when there’s inconsistencies?
GREGG MARSHALL: Well, I can tell you this, when we showed the video of Kentucky, we only show the shots that they make. So our players probably think they make about 80 percent of all their shots. Hopefully, they don’t do that. Hopefully, they’re all having bad karma tomorrow.
Q. Gregg, when you make a list of the important qualities in terms of winning a game, how high up does it rank being the aggressor and the more physical team?
GREGG MARSHALL: Very high. I mean, I talked to my team last night about not -- at halftime, I thought we were sluggish. I thought we were on our heels. I thought Dayton was the aggressor.
It appeared that some of the guys were in their first NCAA tournament or even if they weren’t in their first NCAA tournament, the new guys, some of our returners were in new roles, if you will. They were more prominent players. They weren’t the doo-wop singers in the background. They had the microphone and the lead.
They played like that was their first time. So we were much more aggressive in the second half. I think that showed in our play, so hopefully that’s beyond us now, and we can play well tomorrow from the giddy up.
Q. For those of your players who are not five stars, what are --
GREGG MARSHALL: Those? Which ones are five stars?
Q. I don’t have a list in front of me.
GREGG MARSHALL: You’ve got the list. It’s on that piece of paper right there.
Q. For those who are not, or all of them, what is being missed or overlooked about their abilities or do you see that some of the elite, quote, programs are less willing to spend the time developing them?
GREGG MARSHALL: Well, I don’t know. I can’t speak to the other programs about -- I’m not sure that’s the case. I’m sure that a lot of those programs would love to have some of our guys and develop them as players, but they can get a bigger, faster, quicker, stronger athlete coming in the door and develop them.
I think Cal’s done a great job of that, developing guys in one or two years to get them NBA ready. That’s maybe the difference. It takes those guys one or two years to develop NBA ready bodies in games, where our guys maybe have not as high a starting point, so we have to develop a little more.
But we’re sending some. We just haven’t had the lottery picks yet. We may be working on that.
Q. Gregg, Markis was talking about being able to guard Isaiah Briscoe from the start and kind of going back to their matchups in New Jersey.
How versatile is he? He said he can guard one through four. Is he a guy you can use to guard anybody?
GREGG MARSHALL: Yeah, he and Brown and Kelly, in fact. I think that’s one of the interesting things about our team this year is Landry Shamet at 6’4.5”, Brown at 6’6”, Markis at 6’8”, and Kelly at 6’7”, all those guys can guard one through four. It’s given us flexibility in match-ups and how we want to start games. I didn’t even know Isaiah Briscoe is from New Jersey, but obviously he is, and they played against each other. So they’re familiar with one another’s game.
We can put Markis on Briscoe. We can put him on Fox. We can put him on Monk, and that gives you a little flexibility from a defensive standpoint.
Q. Gregg, you mentioned how Shaq is an older player, obviously, more experienced than Bam. How can that show itself, maybe not in that particular matchup, but how can veteran savviness show itself against maybe a younger, talented player?
GREGG MARSHALL: This is his fourth NCAA tournament. He’s played in a lot of NCAA tournament games. He didn’t play great yesterday. He made some silly fouls. He and Pollard were both fouling each other, just two big guys down in the mud, mud wrestling down there.
We’ve got to get more out of Shaq tomorrow for sure. But Rauno Nurger usually plays well against big guys. He did it last year in the win against Vandy. They had two seven footers. One was a lottery pick, and then Cornette and Tarczewski, Zeus and those big guys Arizona had, he played beautifully against them. He generally plays well against big guy.
Then Willis, we have a three-headed monster at the five. So we’re going to keep those guys fresh. Bam, I’m sure he’s in great shape, but he’s going to need to be in great shape tomorrow.
Q. Gregg, you’ve relished being kind of a spokesman for the poorly seeded and the little guys. Why have you taken that on? Why is that important for you to speak up for that segment of college basketball?
GREGG MARSHALL: That’s where I’ve always -- I mean, I’ve been doing this for 32 years. Wichita State is the highest level I’ve ever coached. I mean, I think it’s pretty obvious. Everyone believes that in this room. If you don’t, raise your hand. We can have a discussion.
Everybody sees it. Everybody knows it. I don’t know why they continually do it, but they do. That’s just the way it is. I think they keep saying that history, what you’ve done in the past, doesn’t mean anything this year, and they just try to weed us out, if you will.
Teams like Middle Tennessee and St. Mare’s and Wichita State, we’re just -- Gonzaga, we’re just determined that that’s not going to be so easy. That’s the deal for us. We want to make it really hard, if that’s what their intent is. You wouldn’t think that’s the case, but it certainly seems that way.
We’re just going to continue to make it as hard as possible for that to happen.
Q. As a follow-up to that, how concerned are you in terms of the future of the tournament that there’s less likely going to be a Cinderella Final Four run from guys like you guys four years ago or Butler or whomever?
GREGG MARSHALL: I think there will be a non-Power Five team win the whole thing, maybe Villanova. I don’t know what you consider Villanova last year, but they’re not a Power Five. Maybe a Power Six, if you want the Big East to be included in that.
Butler was close. We are very close in ’13, but it’s going to happen. It’s going to happen one day, unless they decide to exclude it and break off and have a different tournament or whatever.
But I was watching television before I came to practice today, and it was either on CBS or ESPN, I don’t recall which, but the whole thing was talking about the tournament, first round, both days. And the whole thing was about Middle Tennessee, Rhode Island, our game, and that’s what was interesting. That’s what they wanted to talk about.
They talked about the Michigan/Oklahoma State game a little bit. And the foul with Vandy, but not much, not much else. That was what was interesting in the tournament.
So I don’t know why you would want to exclude that or diminish that in any way.
Q. Why are you so confident that breaker will happen?
GREGG MARSHALL: Because there’s good basketball being played at those levels and good coaches and good players. Just as these guys have a chip on their shoulders, I’m sure Kermit Davis, his group has a chip on their shoulder and Giddy Potts is a really good player and those Aussies at St. Mary’s, those are tough dudes, and Gonzaga is pretty good. So I think it’s going to happen.
Q. Gregg, that said, does tomorrow’s game represent something larger with the possibility that you’re saying that you’ve been underseeded, you’re playing Kentucky, if you win, the implications with maybe the committee in future years?
GREGG MARSHALL: I don’t know what type of impact it will have, Myron. I know we’re going to try our best to win the game, and I’m sure Cal’s group’s got the same mindset. We both want to get to Memphis.
We’re going to play as hard as we possibly can. Be gritty and grimy and tough and active and energetic and passionate and hopefully make enough shots and get a whistle every once in a while, and the ball falls our way.