A pair of former Missouri Valley Conference rivals are enjoying a wild ride heading into March Madness.
On one hand, you have the spectacular individual performance put on night in and night out by Creighton senior Doug McDermott.
On the other hand, you have Wichita State playing a textbook example of team basketball in running through the regular season and conference tournament unscathed at 34-0.
It sets up for some good storylines entering the NCAA Tournament, which begins next week.
McDermott recently became just the eighth player in NCAA history to surpass 3,000 points for his career, doing so in an 88-73 win over Providence Saturday on Senior Night in Omaha.
McDermott set a new career high with 45 points on 17-of-25 shooting from the floor. In doing so, he moved into seventh place on the all-time NCAA scoring list, passing Oscar Robertson and Hersey Hawkins.
Depending on how far Creighton goes in the tournament, it’s possible McDermott could move his way up all the way to the No. 2 spot on the NCAA scoring list, behind just “Pistol” Pete Maravich.
“That’s something nobody would have dreamed would happen,” said Clarke head girls basketball coach Eric Zoske, who was on the Ames High School boys staff during McDermott’s junior and senior seasons in Ames.
“It’s great to see him explode into this national spotlight,” he said. “He’s such a great kid, too. Does everything you ask, plus more. I’m really happy for him.”
Basketball fans in Iowa are familiar with the story — Ames High, led by Harrison Barnes and McDermott claimed back-to-back state championships before Barnes left for North Carolina and McDermott moved on to Creighton.
Everyone expected big things from Barnes, but no one saw this coming from McDermott, now the frontrunner for National Player of the Year.
“Never ever ever,” Zoske said. “There was another guy on that basketball team you’d have thought that way before Doug.”
Zoske said in their senior season, when Ames played Waukegan (Ill.) in a nationally-televised ESPN game at Hilton Coliseum, McDermott showed nerves you wouldn’t expect from a future potential National Player of the Year.
“I asked Doug before the game how he was, and he said, ‘I just puked,’” Zoske said. “He was nervous, because he was on ESPN. That was the only time he was like that and then he went out and got a double-double. That’s when he got jumpstarted into the national spotlight.”
The 6-8 McDermott has come a long way since not starting on Ames’ JV team as a sophomore.
“He almost got cut, but good thing he’s 6-8,” Zoske said. “He was a late bloomer. He didn’t even start his junior year. He exploded the second half of his junior year and then really turned it on his senior year.”
Zoske said one area McDermott really excelled in high school was with his footwork. His touch around the rim was also a big asset for McDermott.
“His shot around the rim, you were shocked when he wouldn’t make it,” Zoske said.
But, he needed work on his outside shot.
And McDermott has clearly worked on that part of his game. He shot 5-of-7 from behind the arc in the win against Providence and knocked down seven 3-pointers in the first half of Thursday’s 84-62 win over DePaul in the Big East Tournament.
“He’s still a little undersized and he’s worked on his outside game,” Zoske said. “He’s fun to watch when he doesn’t have the basketball. He explodes off screens and his post moves are phenomenal for a guy that is 6-8. 6-8 sounds pretty tall, but it’s short when you get to that level. You’d never know that from the way he moves and positions himself without the ball.”
Meanwhile, Wichita State is the first team since UNLV in 1990-91 to enter the NCAA Tournament undefeated. The Shockers enter at 34-0.
All season long, experts have doubted the Shockers. All season long, they’ve asked if the Shockers are for real.
Wichita State is destined for a No. 1 seed, but don’t tell that to certain experts, who still take it upon themselves to preach to fans that the Shockers should be a 2 seed or 3 seed.
It’s that talk that has fueled the Shockers this season. Even after rolling through the Arch Madness in St. Louis last week, the Shockers got more bulletin board material.
The MVC champion T-shirts featured a the tournament bracket on the back of the shirts.
The bracket showed Indiana State defeating Wichita State in the championship game.
It’s been a wild ride so far for the Shockers, including assistant coach Steve Forbes, the former Southwestern Community College coach.
It’s a ride that might not end for a few more weeks.
After seeing the Shockers for the second time in person last week at Arch Madness, I’m ready to label them a legitimate contender to win it all.
It’s hard to find a weakness with the Shockers. They play great team basketball, defending hard on every possession, rebounding very well and they feature a balanced scoring attack.
With McDermott playing the way he is and the Shockers playing the way they are, it’s going to make for an interesting NCAA Tournament.
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