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Wichita State showing staying power

The Wichita State Shockers became a nationally-known team in 2012-13. Under the guidance of head coach Gregg Marshall, Wichita State made a Cinderella run to the Final Four, ultimately losing to the powerhouse Louisville Cardinals.

In 2013-14, the Shockers provided their best season in school history. Behind Cleanthony Early, Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet, the Shockers went 34-0 in the regular season before losing in the third round of the NCAA Tournament to the Kentucky Wildcats, 78-76.  It was an abrupt ending to an incredible season, leaving the question of whether or not Wichita State could return to prominence for a third straight season.

However, under Marshall, the Shockers are back with vengeance. Wichita State is ranked 11th in the country by the AP Poll and at 9-1, already have the attention of top programs in power conferences. The Shockers only loss came in overtime on the road against the Utah Utes, a squad ranking 14th nationally.

Last year, Wichita State was known for a terrific defense and a fast-break offense capable of suffocating teams. In 2014-15, the Shockers are outscoring opponents by an average of 17 points per game, using a balanced attack to overwhelm. Baker has stepped up to replace the scoring of Early, who was taken in the second round of the NBA Entry Draft by the New York Knicks. Baker, a junior from Scott City, Ks., is averaging a team-high 17.3 points per game. Darius Carter is providing additional punch form the interior, pouring in 12.6 points/game while averaging six rebounds.

For many around the program, becoming a national brand would be a major accomplishment after toiling in anonymity for so many decades. The Shockers had traditionally been an afterthought come March, with the school only having 11 tournament appearances. However, a ticket to the dance in 2015 would mean four straight NCAA Tournament berths, a first for the program.

Wichita State appears poised to become a mid-major with power in the recruiting world. Only a few such schools have been able to stake that claim over the past 20 years, with Gonzaga being the prime example. With head coach Mark Few at the helm, the Bulldogs have been able to reach the NCAA Tournament every season since 1999. It is that kind of consistent, remarkable success that attracts kids who might normally go to a larger name-school.

Going into Dec. 23, the Shockers are at 33/1 odds to win the national championship, per Vegas Insider. They are joined on that line by Villanova, Kansas and Florida, all sitting behind eight other teams. Not surprisingly, all of the other schools are from the six power conferences, save Gonzaga, which is at 12/1 odds. For the next non-power school on the list, you have to drop down to San Diego State, which has the miniscule odds of 80/1.

On its remaining schedule, Wichita State only plays one team ranked in the Top 25, the No. 23 Northern Iowa Panthers. The Shockers will have to wait until March to prove their mettle again, something this group has been making a habit of doing.

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