One of these days, Gregg Marshall will leave Wichita State. After listening to him, it’s apparent that day could be coming soon.
But he’s got some unfinished business in this NCAA Tournament. Once again, the Shockers were screwed by the selection committee, so, like a Wild West gunfighter swaggering into a saloon, it’s time for Marshall to start mowing down the opposition.
Despite a 30-4 record, Wichita State was stuck with a No. 10 seed in the South Region, where Dayton awaits today and the winner gets to face Kentucky. The Shockers are 6½-point favorites over the seventh-seeded Flyers in Indianapolis.
Ironically, Marshall is a short drive up the road from Bloomington, where Indiana fired Tom Crean as coach on Thursday. Two of the top three candidates to replace Crean are Marshall and Dayton coach Archie Miller. The other is UCLA’s Steve Alford. All three coaches issued predictable denials when asked about leaving for another job. Marshall’s denial was the least convincing.
“Ultimately, maybe I’ll take one,” Marshall said. “There’s been no discussion of any of these jobs. In fact, I don’t even know what jobs are open, to be honest.”
Typically, when someone says “in fact” and “to be honest” in the same sentence, it’s a lie. Marshall knows the Indiana job is open, and he probably knows Illinois, North Carolina State, California, Washington and Louisiana State are open, too.
The Hoosiers’ targets, in order, are likely Alford, Marshall and Miller. Marshall is the best coach of that group, and he would be a monster hire for Indiana. But back to today’s game.
The Shockers are riding a 15-game win streak, with 14 of the games decided by double digits. So while the NCAA’s clown committee obviously considered the Missouri Valley Conference to be weak this season, there is nothing weak about Wichita State, and its double-digit seed is a joke. The oddsmakers are saying as much.
Marshall lost veteran stars Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet yet kept on rolling. Now, he’s winning with Markis McDuffie, Landry Shamet, Shaq Morris and Conner Frankamp, a sharpshooting transfer from Kansas.
How good is Marshall? The Shockers rank 21st in the nation in scoring offense (82.1), 14th in scoring defense (62.4) and fifth in rebounds per game (40.8). Three years after a 31-0 regular season ended with a second-round tournament loss to Kentucky, Marshall is a win away from a shot at some revenge.
Miller has had a lot of tournament success at Dayton, as well. The Flyers (24-7) are led by senior point guard Scoochie Smith and other veterans who have won in March.
When this tournament is done, Marshall might be the new sheriff in town in Bloomington. It’s tough to bet against him, and I expect Wichita State to advance, but the line is a little inflated by my numbers so I’ll take 6½ points with a quality underdog in what should be a close game.
We expected upsets Thursday, but nothing wild unfolded. Favorites went 14-2 straight up and 7-8-1 against the spread. The two ‘dogs that won — Northwestern and Xavier — were small ‘dogs, each getting two points.
I cashed with Florida Gulf Coast, Iowa State, Middle Tennessee and NC Wilmington. I lost with East Tennessee State, and pushed with Vermont due to getting a good number.
Here are five more plays for Friday:
Oklahoma State (plus-2½) over Michigan: This could be the best game of the day, and it’s also the first one to tip at 9:15 a.m. It’s a matchup of great coaches — John Beilein and Brad Underwood. The Cowboys won had 10 of 11 before three consecutive losses. But the losses were to Iowa State twice and Kansas, and there’s no doubt the Big 12 is tougher than the Big Ten this season. Underwood has two outstanding guards in sophomore Jawun Evans and senior Phil Forte. The Wolverines were on a hot roll last week, but that was last week, and this should go to the wire.
Kentucky (-20) over Northern Kentucky: Rarely do I bet a double-digit favorite, but this is a complete mismatch on paper. The Norse, who won a weak Horizon League tournament, should get battered inside. Their tallest player is 6-foot-7, 250-pound Drew McDonald. Freshman guard Malik Monk and the Wildcats’ athletic big men should dominate.
Southern Methodist (-6½) over Southern California: In the Mustangs’ 30th win, a blowout of Cincinnati last week, they resembled a Sweet 16 team. Junior forward Semi Ojeleye is a big-time player, and 6-6 sophomore Shake Milton runs the point for a well-coached team that ranks third in scoring defense (59.9). SMU has won 26 of 27, with the loss by two points.
Rhode Island (-1) over Creighton: Since briefly opening as 2-point underdogs, the Rams have taken sharp money. Junior guard E.C. Matthews and senior forward Hassan Martin lead a team on an eight-game win streak. The Bluejays are no pushovers, yet losing their veteran point guard was a major setback.
Cincinnati (-3½) over Kansas State: The Bearcats rank fourth in scoring defense (60.5), a consistent trait of coach Mick Cronin’s teams. But this year, his team has more offensive punch. Bruce Weber has probably done enough down the stretch to save his job, but the Wildcats are inconsistent and likely at the end of their winding road.
Thursday: 4-1-1 against the spread