Midwest College Basketball Courts Yield a Bountiful Harvest

By Walters, John | Newsweek, February 21, 2014 | Go to article overview

Midwest College Basketball Courts Yield a Bountiful Harvest


Walters, John, Newsweek


Byline: John Walters

There is one, and only one, acceptable means of looking down on the heartland and its denizens, and that is from an altitude of 35,000 feet. Behold your flyover states: Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, conspicuous from your window seat as a rectangular grid, a quilt of fields where earnest folk plant corn and soybeans and - everyone's favorite - sorghum.

Rectangles upon rectangles. This time of year, the grid lies fallow, and presumably beneath a blanket of snow. Here, now, the fertile parallelograms are found not framed by state roads but rather indoors. They are basketball courts, 94-foot-by-50-foot rectangles, framed by thousands upon thousands of kinetic fans.

This winter, more so than any in memory, the courts have yielded a bountiful harvest. A veritable cornutopia of Top 25 college basketball teams and future NBA starters. No one is looking down on them."You're talking the superlatives now," says Gregg Marshall, the coach at Wichita State, which is the sole remaining undefeated team (28-0) in the nation.

Yes, we are. Within a sparsely populated 500-mile radius of Lebanon, Kan., the geographic center of the continental United States, you will find six of the country's top-ranked teams, as well as the nation's undisputed top player. Besides No. 3 Wichita State, you have No. 8 Kansas, No. 10 St. Louis, No. 12 Creighton, No. 15 Iowa and No. 17 Iowa State. And in Omaha, worthy of a blue ribbon at the state fair, is Creighton's six-foot-eight senior Doug McDermott, who is about to become the college basketball's first three-time all-American in nearly 30 years.

Our driving tour begins in Wichita, home of the Shockers, who have become something of a misnomer over the past 12 months. Last spring Marshall, then in his sixth season, led the team to its first Final Four berth since 1965. Wichita State only lost by four in the national semi-finals to eventual national champion Louisville.

With three starters, including leading scorers Ron Baker and Cleanthony Early, returning, Wichita State's success this season may not be shocking (the school's nickname refers to the harvesting of wheat). Still, 38 years have passed since a school, Indiana, went undefeated and won the national championship.

Locals will remind you that until this season, Wichita State and Creighton were both members of the Missouri Valley Conference, but the Bluejays have since emigrated to the Big East. The implication being that if Marshall's squad had to face Creighton and Dougie McBuckets, as he is known, twice per season, Wichita State's record might not be unsullied. "It's funny how [Creighton] goes to the Big East, considered an elite league, and they're dominating the league," says Marshall, a South Carolina native who has cultivated an image on the prairie as having a chip on his shoulder. "With them gone, we are having to justify our being undefeated. I think that's an interesting quandary for folks."

There is no quandary, however, for folks voting for either the Naismith or Wooden Awards, given annually to the nation's top collegiate player. McDermott, who leads the country in scoring at 25.8 points per game and recently passed Larry Bird on the all-time scoring list, is a layup. …

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