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March Madness cinderellas: Wichita State shocks the college basketball world

The Shockers amassed a then school record 30 wins en route to their first ever Final Four.

Wichita State v Ohio State Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images

The 2012-2013 season for the Wichita State Shockers was expected to be one of mediocrity. Gregg Marshall’s team had lost five of their six leading scorers and were tabbed to finish fourth in the Missouri Valley Conference. Mediocrity was not in the vocabulary of the Shockers, who would stun the Field of 68 on their way to the program’s first Final Four since 1965.

The path to a 30-win season and a trip to the National Semifinals was never even a mere thought in Kansas, particularly after the injury bug invaded the Shockers’ locker room.

After opening up the campaign with an undefeated 9-0 record, one of the most prominent pieces in the Wichita State rotation, Ron Baker, suffered a stress fracture in his foot. Early season starter Evan Wessel suffered a broken pinky eight games into the season, forcing fellow Shockers to step up in their absence.

Four different Shockers missed multiple games due to injury, resulting in nine different players featured in the starting lineup throughout the season.

Malcolm Armstead (10.6 PPG), who started all 39 games for Wichita State, headlined the backcourt trio with Tekele Cotton and Demetric Williams.

Big men Ehimen Orupke and Carl Hall rounded out the starting lineup for the Shockers.

Although Wichita State’s starting five featured Hall’s 12.6 points per game and 6.8 boards per contest, their offensive spark came from the bench.

If it wasn’t for junior college transfer Cleanthony Early, the Final Four run for Wichita State would have been a mere pipe dream. Early was the catalyst of the Shockers’ offense, tallying 13.9 points per contest, which eventually placed him on the All-MVC First Team and earned him the MVC Newcomer of the Year Award.

Despite a plethora of injuries that transformed the Wichita State lineup, Gregg Marshall led his team to a 19-2 start. The Shockers would falter, hitting a three game skid to close out January and turn the calendar to February.

The Shockers would proceed to amass a five-game winning streak before dropping the final two contests of the regular season.

After falling to Doug McDermott and Creighton in the MVC Final, the Shockers were awarded a No. 9 seed in the West Region. The start to Cinderella’s story had begun.

Tasked with the Pittsburgh Panthers in the Round of 64, the Shockers cruised to an 18-point victory despite shooting just 2-of-20 from beyond the arc.

Wichita caught the attention of the college basketball world in their Round of 32 contest. Kelly Olynyk and the Gonzaga Bulldogs were the No. 1 overall seed in the West with a 32-2 record.

The Shockers were not phased, hitting a season-high 14 three-pointers, including seven straight in the second half. Early and Baker powered the offense with 16 points apiece en route to the Sweet Sixteen.

Fellow Cinderella and 13-seed La Salle defeated No. 4 Kansas State and No. 12 Mississippi State after their First Four victory, creating a mid-major Sweet Sixteen contest. The clock struck midnight for the Explorers, as Wichita State capitalized off of a 16-point halftime lead to punch their ticket to the Elite Eight with a 72-58 victory.

Next up on the docket: the Ohio State Buckeyes. Powered by the infamous Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas, the Buckeyes were the No. 2 seed.

After jumping out to a 35-22 halftime lead, the Shockers saw a 20-point second half lead shrink down to three in the closing minutes. Calm and collected, Tekele Cotton hit a monumental three-pointer with 2:20 remaining before the dagger, in the form of a Fred Van Vleet jumper, extended the Shockers lead to 67-61 with 59 seconds remaining.

Wichita snapped the Buckeyes’ 11-game winning streak with a 70-66 victory that punched their ticket to the National Semifinal for the first time since 1965.

As Atlanta welcomed the Shockers on their title quest, the No. 1 overall seed Louisville Cardinals were their kryptonite. Gregg Marshall had his team just 13:35 from a victory in the biggest game of their lives, leading Rick Pitino’s squad by 12.

Led by Russ Smith and Luke Hancock’s 20 points off the bench, the Cardinals mounted a comeback and took the lead for good at 60-58 with 4:47 remaining.

As the clock neared midnight, Wichita State had one last chance down two with 22 seconds to go. Russ Smith and Hancock connected from the charity stripe, creating an insurmountable comeback.

The slipper did not fit the Shockers, as their Cinderella story would come to an end with a 72-68 defeat in the National Semifinal.

The 2012-2013 Wichita State team, under the guidance of all-time winningest coach Gregg Marshall, showcased another mid-major triumph in the face of adversity.

Cleanthony Early amassed 56 career games with the Knicks from 2014-2016. The Bronx, New York native is continuing his professional basketball career in Taiwan.

Ron Baker played for both the New York Knicks and the Washington Wizards over three seasons before playing in Moscow. Baker has since retired and has been a project manager in the strategy and business development department at Ascension Via Christi since August of 2021.

Malcolm Armstead currently plays professional in Greece, while Carl Hall last played professionally in 2020.

As for Fred Van Vleet, well, his NBA title, All-Star selection, and $85-million contract speaks for itself.