What in the name of Tom Gola and Xavier McDaniel is going on?
Hey, everybody cool if we take a quick break from the Florida Dunk Coast love and give some attention to the other game on the other side of the bracket that nobody saw coming?
Just as unpredictable as FGCU-Florida, it's Wichita State-La Salle. (Or, as those of us who pretend to be in the know call it, "The Salle.") The Explorers haven't explored this deep into the NCAAs since the 19freaking50s. And Wichita State, although a Sweet 16 squad seven years ago, has made the most of a season with a team that didn't win the Missouri Valley and lost five starters from a team a year ago (that, truth be told, was a better team than this one).
To think that one of these two will play with a Final Four berth on the line -- it's really, really neat. The game's not going to get the highest ratings from Thursday or Friday, but every few years we get a Sweet 16 tilt featuring a couple of double-digit seeds, and it's then when we realize and remember the necessary manufacture of unpredictability that this tournament will always have.
Wichita State to the Elite Eight. Or La Salle. It's only the fifth time a No. 13 has ever made the Sweet 16; none have reached the Elite Eight, so some history on the line there. La Salle is also the only team aside from VCU to go from First Four to the second weekend. And we know how far that Rams team went two years ago.
How about this, some actual exploring. From Philly to Dayton to Kansas City, back to Philly, and now off to Los Angeles. That's 3,877 miles traveled for La Salle before even playing the regional semifinal.
There are some good stories amid the players, too. Carl Hall is the big man with a big personality for the Shockers. Ramon Galloway is becoming an all-time great for the Explorers. Ron Baker's backstory includes paying his way to be a part of Wichita State. And Tyrone Garland's "Southwest Philly Floater" is the type of move/play young pups on playgrounds about the City of Brotherly Love have been practicing all week.
Shockers coach Gregg Marshall sat outside the team locker room Saturday night and explained why this felt so good. That he'd worked his way to this point, he and his staff all coming from backgrounds that didn't afford "basketball royalty." He prides himself on the fact his team doesn't "have thugs" and is filled with players who go to class. Marshall uses the opportunity for as much to win a game as he does to reaffirm to everyone just now paying attention of how he sees himself of doing things the right way.
Additionally, people need to realize just how handicapped the La Salle athletic department is. Outside of FGCU, you could easily make the case no coach is doing more with less, truly, than John Giannini. The infrastructure is not there to build a perennial tournament team. Reaching a Sweet 16 was thought impossible by many.
Yet here they are. Here's what the bracket can give you. Around 7:15 p.m. local time Thursday night, La Salle will play Wichita State in Los Angeles. A truly unpredictable run will continue and we'll be guaranteed our first surprise Elite Eight coronation since Davidson and Stephen Curry.
Games like La Salle-Wichita State are why I will always love this tournament. I didn't see it coming, you didn't see it coming, and truth be told, those teams didn't either.