Wichita State vs. Loyola Game Recap: Shockers More Than Special in Taking Down Ramblers

So, I said to the guy, "Pick Two!" - David Banks

They come from far and wide to see this team, the team that dares to defy logic and continues to win no matter the opponent. They come to see this special team ... no, wait, give me a word more than special. That is what is in this team's DNA.

The train from a little over a mile away is delayed. There is a problem about a mile south on the Red Line. No one on the platform is going anywhere anytime soon.

No matter, it is the first time it is over 35 degrees in the city for almost a month. The snow has melted enough to clear at least a walkway on the side of the road between here and Loyola.

Two older gentlemen, one wearing a gold sweatshirt under his coat, the other clearly with the same and a Kansas City Chiefs hat stop me as I move to the exit.

"Is there another way to get to Loyola from here, the University?" one says.

I point them to the bus stop at the corner. They had just gotten off the phone with home. They are Shocker fans who flew in yesterday specifically for the game. I am guessing that they won't be the last that I see tonight.

A block away from Gentile Arena is a Five Guys burger joint. The place is mobbed with more than an hour until game time.

Most of the people inside are wearing black warm-ups with a red logo on the chest. The words say Auburn Knights. The team is here to watch Fred Van Vleet. You can't really blame them. Yes, even the local kids are going to be rooting for the Shockers on Wednesday night.

It is five minutes until game time and the stands are packed with more gold and black and maroon. Even Sister Jean, the Loyola basketball team chaplain, references the accomplishments of the Shockers both last year and present.

No offense to Loyola, but the Ramblers haven't beaten a team ranked in the top three in the country since 1978. People aren't here to see them play tonight. They are here for one reason: 28-0.

Welcome to Wichita Northeast.

--

This didn't look to be one of those games that was going to tax Wichita State, and Gregg Marshall took advantage of that. Lineups that haven't seen the light of day during the last several games -- ones that won't likely see the floor again unless foul trouble hell, or the flu hits the Shockers -- were run out on the court for extended minutes against Loyola.

So this wasn't the normal Wichita State team that we have been watching.

The result was the same, an 88-74 win filled with superior play from the usual suspects. This time it fell to Fred Van Vleet in front of the "home" crowd and Cleanthony Early, even if he had a little foul trouble along the way.

They won how they always do, and they didn't even know that they would be leaving the court as the lone unbeaten team in Division I.

--

It is late in the game and Wichita State is up by double digits, as they would expect to be. A foul is called on Devon Turk as Darius Carter slams home a basket. The crowd goes crazy as the teams walk to their benches for the under-4 minute timeout.

Yes, the crowd goes crazy. Wichita Northeast has taken over the Gentile Arena and it is really hard to tell that you are in Chicago with the way this game has gone. The cheers for the visitors drown out anything that the actual home fans can muster in the way of disagreement with the refs.

It is impressive, a traveling group like this. If this were college football, the Shockers would top bowl lists for their ability to travel.

Tonight they honored perfection and not just the 28-0 kind. They honored the Fred Van Vleet kind. He had the kind of game that you love to have in your homecoming, even if that home is more than 90 minutes up the road, and most of the way to Wisconsin.

Six shots taken from the floor, six shots went in. Ten shots taken from the line, 10 shots went in. The only blemish on his record was a turnover he committed halfway through the first half. I think someone might forgive him that one.

"That one turnover, we are going to have to talk about that one turnover," Gregg Marshall joked during the post-game media session.

He might not forgive himself for it though:

"I think that turnover they gave me was a blocked shot," he said.

Marshall fires out with "Recount!" from the end of the table.

Told you.

When the final buzzer sounded, Wichita Northeast stood and cheered, along with some of the home crowd that decided to change allegiance for the time being. You can't really blame them. The winners were impressive, as always, as they will continue to be if they can play like this.

Wichita State played fast and loose, as if they had gotten together for a pickup game and the rest of the kids on the playground showed up wearing matching uniforms. They have gotten good at this now, playing as if there were no pressure. That doesn't mean they don't work. They work harder in practice and in preparation than they need to do in the game.

"They grind because they want to be special," Marshall said.

Special doesn't even begin to describe it. This team has been special since last season, since they got everyone watching them, despite being overshadowed by a couple of smaller upstarts who had a penchant for flashier play. Who needs that when you are this good?

No, there has to be a better word than special. There has to be something more special than special to describe what this is and what this is becoming.

Everyone wants to know what they think of being the last man standing. The truth is that they don't really care. You can tell by the reaction that Early has when the media just keeps asking and asking, hoping one of these kids will say something that could be bulletin board fodder for the rest of the country.

He grins that Early grin, the one that is the brightest smile every night he takes the floor, the one that he only lets come out when the game is won and he can finally take off his game face.

No, this team is focused on what it is doing, and the next game on the schedule.

It sounds like coach speak because it is. You can't control what the other teams do; you can only try to do the best you can. And for this team, that is perfection, plain and simple.

They want to win the National Championship, and they don't want to lose on the way to getting there.

"I don't coach to lose; it's not in my DNA," Marshall said.

And so far, no team has had better genes than Marshall and Early and Van Vleet, and on down the roster to the guys who got into the game in the final minute.

It really seems that no team will.

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