LOS ANGELES -- Wichita State took the difficult route to the Staples Center.
The Shockers’ Sweet 16 run has been littered with drama. First, they lost their top five scorers from last season. Then they suffered a variety of injuries throughout 2012-13.
Carl Hall missed time with a thumb injury. Ron Baker was affected by a stress fracture in his foot. Evan Wessel's season ended following surgery on a broken finger. Ehimen Orukpe dealt with a sprained ankle.
Plus, Wichita State lost six games in Missouri Valley Conference play alone. Even a few weeks ago, who would have projected this?
It’s only fitting that the obstacles give the Shockers' tale that Hollywood feel.
“You've got to have your team clicking at the right time of the year, and it just so happens we got all our guys back, and we're kind of playing good defense and getting stops,” Hall said.
The drawbacks of Wichita State’s success are that it magnifies speculation that coach Gregg Marshall will not remain at the school. Right now, USC, UCLA and Minnesota are all searching for coaches. The openings, once filled, will spark another rotation of the coaching carousel.
Marshall has been floated as a potential candidate for high-major jobs in the past. But he’s even hotter this year. With one or two wins at the Staples Center this week, he could easily move to the top of the list -- if he’s not already a front-runner -- for top vacancies throughout the country.
Like any reasonable coach, however, Marshall dismissed the rumors on Wednesday and repeated his desire to remain in Wichita.
“I really don't deal with it. I do my job,” Marshall said. “Doing my job is always, for me, been the No. 1 goal. We live well in Wichita. We love Wichita. Everything is in place for us to be there for a long time. ... My focus is on La Salle and trying to get to Saturday for an Elite Eight game.”
But Marshall can’t control the coaching conjecture.
And that places him in a difficult position. He wants to enjoy the moment. He wants players (current and future) to know that he plans to stay. He wants to focus on Thursday’s game.
The reality, however, is that Marshall’s name will continue to float. It’s a byproduct of victory for a coach in his position. His players said they’ve tried to ignore the chatter.
“You kind of have to because you understand the position he's in and the position we're in, and we've got to understand that we've got to live for today and continue to play through that,” Cleanthony Early said.
Marshall, however, won’t be the only coach on the floor who’s dealing with the issue. La Salle coach John Giannini could be a viable candidate for multiple programs as a result of his team’s NCAA tournament run.
“It's like anything else we've talked about. It's what matters and it's what's real,” Giannini said. “No one has called me. No one is talking to me. ... If a school's not talking to you, it doesn't matter.”
WHOM TO WATCH
La Salle’s Ramon Galloway: The senior is a phenomenal athlete, but his game goes beyond his dunking ability. Galloway is a complete player. He’s averaging 17.4 points per game. He’s shooting 41.4 percent from beyond the arc and 83.2 percent from the charity stripe. He also averages 1.9 steals.
“[My teammates] don't just push me and say, 'Ramon, go score.' They tell me to help us win, do it all,” Galloway said. “So I'm just glad that I'm blessed that I got this opportunity, and I'm blessed that I'm a well-rounded player.”
Wichita State’s Early: The Shockers' junior star has been a matchup nightmare for teams all season. Early (13.9 PPG, 5.2 RPG), a 6-foot-8 forward, can affect the game inside or outside. “I think he's got a chance to play at a really high level someday,” Marshall said.
WHAT TO WATCH
3-point shooting: Wichita State hit 50 percent of its 3-point attempts in its upset of No. 1 seed Gonzaga last weekend -- an impressive performance. But La Salle led the Atlantic 10 in 3-point field-goal percentage defense. The Explorers held A-10 opponents to a 28.4 percent clip from beyond the arc.