Their 20-point lead nearly evaporated, but with a few clutch shots, a few stops and one or two lucky breaks, David slayed Goliath again in the NCAA Tournament.
No. 9 Wichita State, out of the Missouri Valley Conference, held on to beat mighty No. 2 Ohio State, 70-66, in the West Regional final on Saturday night in Los Angeles. The Shockers denied the Buckeyes their second straight trip to the Final Four and ensured that a mid-major team would once again play on basketball's final weekend.
The Shockers are now the sixth team since 2006 to make it to the Final Four out of a non-power conference, but this year they'll be looking to do something that a mid-major hasn't done since 1990: win the whole thing.
Since UNLV won the national championship in 1990 -- and let's face it, the Rebels could hardly be considered Cinderellas -- mid-majors just haven't been able to beat the best teams under the brightest lights. Utah made it to the title game in 1998 before falling to Kentucky, then a decade later, Derrick Rose and the Memphis Tigers lost to Kansas in the 2008 championship game. Two years later, Butler began its run of two straight title game appearances and losses.
And, like the ten other mid-majors to make the Final Four since 1991, the Shockers will come into next weekend as heavy underdogs, with a game against either No. 1 overall seed Louisville or perennial power Duke.
It's hard to pick which of those two teams the Shockers would rather face, considering both spent time atop the national polls at some point this season. The Cardinals are red-hot winners of 13 in a row, including four wins against ranked teams. The Blue Devils haven't been quite as consistent, but are back at full strength and beat a tough Michigan State team on Friday to reach the Elite Eight.
Louisville might pose more of a matchup problem for the Shockers with guards Russ Smith and Peyton Siva constant threats to put up two points on the fast break. The Cardinals have the ability to run the Shockers out of the gym. The 6'11 Gorgui Dieng is no picnic inside either, especially considering that Wichita State only has one payer taller than 6'9.
If Wichita State draws Duke, the Shockers would have to deal with the sixth-most prolific scoring team in the country, but one that also struggles to rebound -- and crashing the boards is one of the Shockers' biggest strengths despite their smaller lineup. The Blue Devils are also a good three-point shooting team, but Wichita State is one of the best in the country at defending beyond the arc, allowing opponents to make just over 32 percent of their attempts.
Regardless, either team would be tough on Wichita State, not that the Shockers need an ideal matchup to win. They still beat a physical Pittsburgh team in the second round, a versatile Ohio State in the Elite Eight and, of course, knocked off No. 1 Gonzaga in the Third Round.
They're just another mid-major that has defied the odds to get to this point.
And now they just need two more wins.