KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Cleanthony Early heard someone say before the start of the NCAA tournament that only about 30 percent of brackets filled out by fans had Wichita State winning its first game.
Well, the junior forward has just one question now: How many had the Shockers winning two?
In a tournament that has given rise to the lower class, where double-digit seeds have become adept at knocking off the blue bloods, the ninth-seeded Shockers’ upset of No. 1 seed Gonzaga has put them in a position to make an improbable run at the Final Four.
The Shockers (28-8) take on No. 13 seed La Salle on Thursday night in Los Angeles, and then would get sixth-seeded Arizona or No. 2 seed Ohio State for a spot in Atlanta.
“You hear stuff,” Anthony said, “and people come up to you saying, ‘What do you think, 70 percent of America has you losing the first game?’ And you have to avoid everyone’s opinion and go out there and play hard. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter, because we play the game of basketball and that’s what we’re going to do to the best of our ability.”
They’ve done it pretty well most of the season even if most of the country hasn’t been aware of it.
Wichita State was overshadowed all year in the Missouri Valley by perennial contender Creighton and its high-scoring forward, Doug McDermott. And the school is naturally overshadowed in its own state by mighty Kansas, the No. 1 seed in the South Region, and Kansas State, which was ousted from the tournament in the second round by the Shockers’ next opponent, La Salle.
So despite racking up 109 wins over the past four years, winning an NIT title and reaching the NCAA tournament each of the past two seasons, the Shockers continue to fly under the radar.