Shockers solidifying shaky spot in NCAA Tournament field

Wichita State forward Isaiah Poor Bear-Chandler (44) reaches for a rebound in front of Tulsa forward Rey Idowu (25) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Tulsa, Okla., Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

WICHITA, Kan. – Wichita State headed north to South Dakota to open its season with an interim coach a week on the job, a roster almost completely turned over from last season and almost no expectations when a wave of positive COVID-19 tests forced the Shockers to turn right around and head home.

Turns out it merely delayed the start of a season nobody will soon forget.

Isaac Brown's revamped bunch is not only cruising along at 13-4 and 9-2 in the American Athletic Conference, the Shockers jumped into first place Thursday night with a 68-63 win over sixth-ranked Houston. It was their eighth victory this season by five points or fewer, and their highest-ranked victim at home since beating No. 2 Louisville in 1967.

Suddenly, a program that began the season in turmoil is on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble.

“I'm just proud of these guys,” Brown said. “You know, with everything when I first got this job, we told these kids, ‘Just trust us,’ and we're going to give them 110% every day, and all those guys trust the process.

“They just basically stepped up and have just been doing a tremendous job."

Tyson Etienne and Alterique Gilbert scored 16 points apiece in the win over the Cougars, their latest effort in making fans forget all about the seven players that bolted from the program from the end of last season to the beginning of this one.

Just like the rest of the Shockers have made folks forget — at least at some level — about Gregg Marshall, the winningest coach in program history, who agreed to buyout just weeks before the start of the season. It was Marshall who led Wichita State to the Final Four and helped the school gain acceptance from the AAC, but left when former players accused him of physical and verbal abuse going back several years.