But when the Bluejays skipped to the Big East, it cleared the way for Marshall’s Shockers to romp through a weakened league and have one of the finest seasons in Division I history.
Wichita State won its first 35 games, a record for a men’s major college program, and became the first team to enter the NCAA tournament with a perfect record since UNLV in 1991. With his motto of “play angry,” the Shockers embodied the intense nature of their blue-collar coach, who came up through tiny schools such as Randolph-Macon to reach the pinnacle of his sport.
Along the way, the Shockers captured their first Missouri Valley tournament title since 1987 and landed forward Cleanthony Early and point guard Fred VanVleet on the AP’s All-America teams.
“I tell you what, they made it easy to coach,” Marshall told AP. “You enjoy going to work every single day. Even with the loss to Kentucky, they never wavered. They wanted to be a special group, and they wanted to do things that have never been done.”
That loss to the Wildcats still stings, though. The heavyweights from the SEC were given a No. 8 seed in the NCAA tournament, meaning Wichita State had to face them in the opening weekend, and the two teams waged a thrilling game that came down to VanVleet’s missed shot at the buzzer.
“Ultimately, some point down the road, we’ll look back on this season, and look back fondly,” Marshall said, “but at this point, gosh, I wish we were still playing.”
Marshall received 44 votes for coach of the year. Tony Bennett of Virginia got 13, followed by Florida’s Billy Donovan with six and Michigan’s John Beilein and SMU’s Larry Brown with one each.
There wasn’t nearly as much indecision in voting for McDermott, who led the Bluejays to a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament. And while their season ended in a loss to Baylor, it was only a blip on an otherwise remarkable career that left his proud pop feeling nostalgic.