In March of 2013, as the Wichita State Shockers surged toward the Final Four, many college basketball fans expressed disbelief that a small school could make such a huge impact on the Big Dance. Clearly, those observers were not from the heartland, or else they’d know that the squad from the Missouri Valley Conference actually has a lengthy, proud history of success.
The first Wichita basketball team took the court in 1906, while the university was still known as Fairmount College. Like many schools at this time, the early Wheatshockers squared off primarily against AAU outfits and other roving clubs. This arrangement lasted until about 1934, and it wasn’t until the 1953-54 season that the university became a real, formidable competitor. Under the guidance of coach Ralph Miller and powered by the excellent play of Cleo Littleton, the team won 27 games and made it to the postseason for the first time in school history. A huge sea change for the program occurred in 1955 when the team finally moved from playing in high school gymnasiums to an arena of their very own. Ten years later, the university would experience another new sensation: March Madness.
The 1964-65 season would be bittersweet for Wichita State fans. Fresh off of making their debut in the NCAA tournament the season before, the team also had their first-ever All-American in big man Dave “The Rave” Stallworth. However, Stallworth’s eligibility ran out in January, and the team had to carry on without him. Despite battling all the way to an inaugural Final Four appearance, the Shockers wouldn’t return to the national conversation until the ‘80s.
An incredible run during the ‘81 tourney would see the team playing in the Elite Eight, but it was the arrival of the “X-Man” the following fall that really captured the attention of fans. Arriving from South Carolina, hard-nosed Xavier McDaniel was a force on both ends of the floor. In his senior year, “X” became the first player in NCAA history to lead the nation in both points and rebounds. Like Stallworth before him, McDaniel would go on to enjoy a solid career in the NBA.
While the team would qualify for the tourney in both ‘87 and ‘88, Wichita State’s ascension as a basketball powerhouse didn’t really begin until the new millennium. A Sweet Sixteen appearance in 2006 would start the charge, but it was Coach Gregg Marshall’s 2012 and 2013 teams that would really turn heads. Back-to-back seasons of 30-plus wins, as well as the school’s second Final Four appearance, put Wichita State back on the map.
At the Charles Koch Arena, optimism has reached an all-time high. The Shockers have proven that they can hang with the big schools, and fans nationwide have taken notice. While they may not have the bells and whistles of other universities, Wichita State has one thing that no one else can claim: a remarkable ability to crash the party time and time again and always leave as the belle of the ball.