Shockers kept to routine the day before the 16

Originally Published: March 15, 2006
By Kyle Whelliston | Special to ESPN.com

WASHINGTON -- On the day before Sweet 16 games, team practices are open to the public and free of charge. As the four regionals are often sold out months in advance, it's a great opportunity for locals to get a rare eyeful of college basketball's superstars, and skip work for a few hours, as well.

But against UConn's aerial dunk show and triple-speed layup line and the rigorous drills of Washington and George Mason, seventh-seeded Wichita State offered nothing in the way of "oohs" or "aahs." In front of about 1,200 spectators, the Shockers' players engaged in a listless and langorous shootaround, their dribbles splattering against the Verizon Center floor like the slow, fat raindrops of a central Kansas rainstorm.

"C'mon, show us something!" bellowed one businessman in the stands, cupping his hands around his mouth for extra volume.

But Wichita State, preparing for their BracketBusters revenge rematch with George Mason in Friday's Mid-Major Super Bowl, wasn't about to fix any routines that weren't broken, especially for the sake of entertainment.

"We did this at our open practice last week in Greensboro," said Shockers head coach Mark Turgeon, who looked on from center court with folded arms. "We just want the guys to get a feel for the rims, and just shoot."

Since Wichita State shuffled off the floor before their allotted 50 practice minutes were up, the rims likely felt just right. Perhaps even as good as the Greensboro Coliseum iron that opened wide to allow 47 percent Shocker shooting in the first round (while snapping shut like a flytrap on Seton Hall, which shot 34 percent), and as forgiving as when WSU poured in 80 points on 66 total possessions in their second-round victory over Tennessee on Saturday.

After defeating the SEC's Tennessee Volunteers to pull off the 7-over-2 upset, the MVC champs returned home to Wichita to practice for three days. While the largest media market in the conference (No. 67) is buzzing, the team pretty much has had the campus to itself this week.

"We came home to a full airport and a lot of excited people," Turgeon said. "But I think it's kind of a blessing that [the students] are on spring break. It took away some of the excitement. We were able to get some good rest, sleep in a little bit; it's allowed us to focus on our team and what we have to do to beat George Mason."

It also helped Turgeon's cause that the larger, higher-profile schools in the state are stealing a little of Wichita State's media thunder. Jayhawk Nation has been up in arms since Friday, when Bradley (WSU's league mate) silenced the "Rock Chalk" chant and gave Kansas its second consecutive first-round exit. And then, on Wednesday, Big 12 ashtray Kansas State completed the high-profile coaching hire of Bob Huggins.

"It's a state that's passionate about basketball, and it's a great day in the state of Kansas," Turgeon said. "Bob Huggins will definitely get K-State back to the tournament, and KU's going to be part of it every year. Hopefully, we're building something where we can be part of the NCAA Tournament quite a few times in the future."

But the only team left standing from the Sunflower State is happy to be under the radar as much as a Sweet 16 team can be, keeping the outside distractions to a minimum and focusing on the task at hand in its first NCAA appearance since 1988.

"We're the same levelheaded team that went into the tournament last weekend," Turgeon said. "I really feel good about our guys. We know this will be a little bit different of an environment than it was last weekend, but we're level-headed. It hasn't been that tough for us this week."

And even if the general public wasn't won over by their display Thursday afternoon, it didn't matter to the small clutch of fans in bright gold sweatshirts, some of whom were clutching pom-poms that were etched with the team's shock-of-wheat symbol, all of whom were veterans of the first George Mason-Wichita State battle back in February. They'd made the trip from Sedgwick County into Patriot territory to lend support to their reigning MVC regular-season champions, as the Shox attempt to avenge that 70-67 home loss and venture on into the Elite Eight.

"Let's go Shock-ers!" they chanted and clapped as their team went through their slow-motion paces on the floor. "Let's go Shock-ers!"

"We've played in tough environments all year," said Turgeon. "We know we're going to have about 1,200 Shocker fans here tomorrow and they're going to make as much noise as they can, so it's not like there's not going to be anyone here rooting for us. They had to come to our place for BracketBusters and they beat us, now we have to come here and play them. It's what we were dealt, that's life."

Kyle Whelliston is the founder of midmajority.com and is a daily contributor to ESPN.com.

Kyle Whelliston

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
Kyle Whelliston has contributed to ESPN.com's college basketball coverage since 2005. He covers mid-major programs for Basketball Times magazine, and will have a basketball travelogue of the 2008-09 season published next summer. Whelliston also founded midmajority.com and statistical database site Basketball State (bbstate.com).