WASHINGTON -- On the day before Sweet 16 games, team practices are
open to the public and free of charge. As the four regionals are often
sold out months in advance, it's a great opportunity for locals to get
a rare eyeful of college basketball's superstars, and skip work for a
few hours, as well.
But against UConn's aerial dunk show and triple-speed layup line and
the rigorous drills of Washington and George Mason, seventh-seeded
Wichita State offered nothing in the way of "oohs" or "aahs." In front
of about 1,200 spectators, the Shockers' players engaged in a listless
and langorous shootaround, their dribbles splattering against the
Verizon Center floor like the slow, fat raindrops of a central Kansas
"C'mon, show us something!" bellowed one businessman in the stands,
cupping his hands around his mouth for extra volume.
But Wichita State, preparing for their BracketBusters revenge rematch
with George Mason in Friday's Mid-Major Super Bowl, wasn't about to
fix any routines that weren't broken, especially for the sake of
"We did this at our open practice last week in Greensboro," said
Shockers head coach Mark Turgeon, who looked on from center court with
folded arms. "We just want the guys to get a feel for the rims, and
Since Wichita State shuffled off the floor before their allotted 50
practice minutes were up, the rims likely felt just right. Perhaps
even as good as the Greensboro Coliseum iron that opened wide to allow
47 percent Shocker shooting in the first round (while snapping shut
like a flytrap on Seton Hall, which shot 34 percent), and as forgiving as when
WSU poured in 80 points on 66 total possessions in their second-round
victory over Tennessee on Saturday.
After defeating the SEC's Tennessee Volunteers to pull off the 7-over-2 upset, the
MVC champs returned home to Wichita to practice for three days.
While the largest media market in the conference (No. 67) is buzzing,
the team pretty much has had the campus to itself this week.
"We came home to a full airport and a lot of excited people,"
Turgeon said. "But I think it's kind of a blessing that [the students] are
on spring break. It took away some of the excitement. We were able to
get some good rest, sleep in a little bit; it's allowed us to focus on
our team and what we have to do to beat George Mason."
It also helped Turgeon's cause that the larger, higher-profile schools
in the state are stealing a little of Wichita State's media thunder.
Jayhawk Nation has been up in arms since Friday, when Bradley (WSU's
league mate) silenced the "Rock Chalk" chant and gave Kansas
its second consecutive first-round exit. And then, on Wednesday, Big
12 ashtray Kansas State completed the high-profile coaching hire of
"It's a state that's passionate about basketball, and it's a great day
in the state of Kansas," Turgeon said. "Bob Huggins will definitely
get K-State back to the tournament, and KU's going to be part of it
every year. Hopefully, we're building something where we can be part
of the NCAA Tournament quite a few times in the future."
But the only team left standing from the Sunflower State is happy to
be under the radar as much as a Sweet 16 team can be, keeping the
outside distractions to a minimum and focusing on the task at hand in
its first NCAA appearance since 1988.
"We're the same levelheaded team that went into the tournament last
weekend," Turgeon said. "I really feel good about our guys. We know
this will be a little bit different of an environment than it was last
weekend, but we're level-headed. It hasn't been that tough for us this
And even if the general public wasn't won over by their display
Thursday afternoon, it didn't matter to the small clutch of fans in
bright gold sweatshirts, some of whom were clutching pom-poms that
were etched with the team's shock-of-wheat symbol, all of whom were veterans of
the first George Mason-Wichita State battle back in February. They'd
made the trip from Sedgwick County into Patriot territory to lend
support to their reigning MVC regular-season champions, as the Shox
attempt to avenge that 70-67 home loss and venture on into the Elite
"Let's go Shock-ers!" they chanted and clapped as their team went
through their slow-motion paces on the floor. "Let's go Shock-ers!"
"We've played in tough environments all year," said Turgeon. "We know
we're going to have about 1,200 Shocker fans here tomorrow and they're
going to make as much noise as they can, so it's not like there's not
going to be anyone here rooting for us. They had to come to our place
for BracketBusters and they beat us, now we have to come here and play
them. It's what we were dealt, that's life."
Kyle Whelliston is the founder of midmajority.com and is a daily contributor to ESPN.com.