Now that you know what you need to watch in every conference in the country in 2013-14, we turn our attention to the theme of change -- from coaching swaps to player development to good old-fashioned rules, and anywhere in between -- in a series we're calling Season of Change. Today: Why would Wichita State change now?
CHICAGO -- A school's first trip to the Final Four in nearly 50 years is supposed to change things, and not just enrollment. It's supposed to make a coach a household name, a well-compensated new hire or both. It's supposed to vault players to NBA stardom. It's supposed to make preseason stars of key returners. It's supposed to "legitimize" a program, make it a national "brand" and flood this great nation's mall kiosks with officially licensed colorways.
"Supposed to" doesn't apply to Wichita State. It certainly doesn't apply to coach Gregg Marshall, who has turned down a wide array of elite high-major jobs in the past two seasons (including UCLA last spring) in favor of enjoying what he has explained to anyone who will listen is a "good life" in Wichita.
Here's the spoiler alert of Missouri Valley Conference media day 2013: "Supposed to" won't apply to the Shockers on the court any time soon either.
"I've been doing this for 15 years; this is my 16th year as a head coach," Marshall said. "We've won a lot of games, and we're not going to change."
A wandering eye could find reasons for at least some evolution. Along with Malcolm Armstead, Demetric Williams and 7-foot reserve center Ehimen Orukpe, Wichita State lost forward Carl Hall -- a dominating offensive rebounder and physical force crucial to the Shockers' identity on both ends of the floor last season -- to graduation. Marshall has three forwards arriving (one freshman, Shaquille Morris, and two junior college transfers, Earl Watson and Darius Carter) to help pick up the slack. But his best ostensible frontcourt player, star 6-8 wing Cleanthony Early, is good enough to tempt any coach to spread the floor, play smaller and faster, and stretch defenses to the breaking point. Early is good enough, in other words, to make a coach feel experimental.
Not Marshall. There are plenty of things Early has been tasked with improving this offseason -- such as maintaining his emotions, better outside shooting and avoiding silly fouls -- but they are all iterations on an already successful formula.
Instead, Marshall plans to hew things that made last season's Shockers such a tough March out and made his previous group, a No. 5-seeded 2011-12 team that won 29 games and graduated five senior starters prior to last season's success, every bit as consistent.
The rule changes, though, might force Marshall's hand. A program "defined by our defense and rebounding," as guard Ron Baker put it Wednesday, could struggle with the NCAA's offseason changes to rules governing contact -- designed to increase freedom of movement and make the college game less overtly physical.
But even that aspect, and whatever change it might require of the Shockers, is as yet unknown. How strict will officials be in November? Will their calls evolve as the season progresses? How long will it take everyone -- players, coaches and officials -- to understand where the new boundaries lie? How many free throws will be shot in the meantime?
"We've just got to be smart, and I've got to adapt and our players have got to adapt," Marshall said. "But the other teams have to adapt as well. And if we get called for a foul and the other team shoots free throws, then we have a chance to go down on the other end and do the same thing.
"You just hope you don't lose games early [and hurt your NCAA tournament chances] because of it. That's the biggest thing. We've just got to find a way to win those games early and be good in the preconference."
On Wednesday, Marshall was asked whether the Final Four had changed his program, whether there was a different "feel."
"I've never had this many reporters standing around when I've had to give interviews, so that's a change," Marshall said.
Other than that?
"I don't see much difference," Marshall said. "We're going to try to adjust to the officials, but the way we play? That's not going to change a whole lot. I don't know why you would change at this point."