WICHITA — This was supposed to be a rebuilding year at Wichita State.
So much for that.
The Shockers ended up going 26-8 and finished just behind Creighton in the Missouri Valley Conference, putting together the kind of season that left the NCAA tournament selection committee with little choice but to reward them with an at-large bid in the field of 68.
Wichita State was given the No. 9 seed in the West Region, and will open play on Thursday against eighth-seeded Pittsburgh in Salt Lake City.
"It's not easy to win 26 basketball games. There's a lot of teams in the country that would like to win 20, and have a winning record," Shockers coach Gregg Marshall said. "We don't take it for granted. It's a struggle. It's a grind. It's hard work, but it's something we can do, and we've proven it. We've proven it in consecutive years."
Of course, the Shockers would like to fare better than they did last season.
After landing the No. 5 seed, their best-ever since the NCAA began seeding teams for the 1979 tournament, the Shockers were waylaid by 12th-seeded VCU in their first game of the dance.
"We have to get focused," Wichita State forward Carl Hall said. "We were a 5-seed last year and lost to VCU, so it don't matter what you are. It's pretty equal going into the tournament."
The Shockers do have some familiarity with Pittsburgh.
The two teams met at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., as part of the CBE Classic during the 2009-10 season. The Panthers dug in for a 68-55 victory in that semifinal match-up.
"Jamie Dixon is a very good coach," Marshall said. "He consistently develops tough, defensive-minded teams, and I remember it was a grind-it-out game in Kansas City in the CBE a couple of years ago. If I'm not mistaken, their best player now (Travon Woodall) was a young player then, and he's evolved into a very good guard."
While this is the second straight year the Shockers have made the NCAA tournament, it's only the third time since 1988. The other team that qualified under former coach Mark Turgeon made it to the round of 16 in 2006, ultimately losing to mid-major upstart George Mason.
"It's a great honor to get in the tournament two years in a row," Shockers guard Demetric Williams said, "but last year we made it and lost in the first game, so it's more motivation to get past that first game and to make some noise in the dance."