OXFORD, Ohio – Only 0.24 percent of the ESPN Tournament Challenge brackets had Wichita State making it to the Final Four.
Miami University coach John Cooper, a Shockers’ alum and the team’s leading scorer and rebounder during his junior and senior seasons, admittedly wasn’t one of those people.
But the Kansas City native knew WSU had a chance to make a deep run.
“No one in the country was expecting Wichita State,” he said. “I knew they were pretty good and I thought they would beat Pitt, but after that you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Following their win over Pitt, the Shockers have taken down No. 1-seed Gonzaga in the second round, No. 13 La Salle in the Sweet 16 and No. 2 Ohio State in the Elite Eight.
“They’re tough, they defend, they rebound and they play to their strengths, offensively," Cooper said. "They know who they are and those four things never ever change. You look at what Gregg (Marshall) has done ... it’s unbelievable. They have won a ton of games during the past four years.”
Cooper and Marshall have known each other for a long time. When Cooper was an assistant at South Carolina (1995-01), Marshall was an assistant at the College of Charleston. After that, Marshall served as an assistant for the Thundering Herd of Marshall and then became the head coach at Winthrop before eventually landing in Wichita.
“It’s a unique place,” Cooper said of Wichita, which is the largest city in Kansas. “If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a city of maybe 400,000 people. But even in the lean years they’ve always supported their basketball program.”
Cooper continued, “I imagine they’re at 200-some consecutive sellouts. It’s 10,000 fans every game and it is loud. Most people that have been there will tell you it’s one of the best environments in the country. It’s an unbelievable place and when I was there it was no different.”
But Cooper, "shockingly" enough, hasn’t been to a Wichita State basketball game since he graduated in 1991.
“I have never gotten back to a game since I left,” he said. “With my schedule, there was no way for me to get back to a game.”
But this weekend, Cooper will get to see his alma mater play for the first time in more than two decades when they face off against overall No. 1-seed Louisville on Saturday in Atlanta.
The first-year Miami coach, who was already scheduled to be in Atlanta for the annual National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) convention, which is held at the Final Four site each year, will be partaking in more pleasure than business this weekend.
“I’m going to be cheering for the Shockers, that’s what I’ll be doing,” he said enthusiastically. “I’ll be there.”
“It’s fun. That’s my alma mater. You think about it, my last three schools (during my recruitment) were Purdue, UConn and Wichita State and it was the absolute right decision. It was one of the best experiences I have ever had. It’s really the baseline of who I am.”
The last time Wichita State reached the Final Four was in 1965. The last time the Shockers made back-to-back NCAA appearances was in 1988, which was Cooper’s second season.