Gregg Marshall, the coach who made Winthrop men's basketball relevant by winning seven Big South Conference championships, will be directing Wichita State in its bid for the 2011 NIT championship tonight.
Marshall and his WSU Shockers (28-8) play Alabama (25-11) at 7 p.m. on ESPN2 in New York's Madison Square Garden.
Wednesday was a crazy day for Marshall and Wichita State. He spoke hurriedly into his cell phone while on a bus from the team's hotel to practice at MSG. The day already had included a press conference and a film session on Alabama.
When asked if an NIT title would be the pinnacle of his career, Marshall said, "I don't know. Going to the NCAA tournament seven times with Winthrop and winning a game in 2007; I don't want to take anything away from that and the players that made that happen."
What Marshall has done at Wichita State is similar to what he did at Winthrop, although under a different set of circumstances.
He took over the Shockers program in 2007 when former WSU coach Mark Turgeon left for Texas A&M. Wichita State had been to an NCAA tournament in 2006. The cupboard wasn't bare.
Marshall came to Winthrop at a time when the school had endured eight consecutive losing seasons. He made the NCAA tournament his first year.
Marshall owns an 81-55 career record at the Kansas school, but he is 53-18 in his last two seasons heading into tonight's contest. This year's Shockers team isn't all that unlike those Winthrop teams that used to romp through Big South competition. There are no stars on the team. Their leading scorer, J.T. Durley, averages just 11.2 points per game.
He hasn't changed his coaching philosophy.
"We're trying to play the same style," he said. "We have athletic kids that have bought into the team concept. We are similar to some of the great teams at Winthrop. Our point guards run the show like Chris Gaynor, Pierre Wooten and Tyson Waterman did."
Marshall slid those names into the conversation as easily as if they were on his current roster.
"We have defenders who can shoot the way Michael Jenkins, Torrell Martin and Roger Toxey did," Marshall went on.
Wichita State has a couple 7-footers that Winthrop never had. One of them, Garrett Stutz, scored 24 points in the Shockers' stunning 75-44 drubbing of Washington State in Tuesday's NIT semifinal.
Marshall said Stutz is similar to former Winthrop players Craig Bradshaw and Phillip Williams in the way he can score inside or outside. He also compared Wichita State forwards Ben Smith and Aaron Ellis to Greg Lewis and Heson Groves in their ability to get the tough rebounds.
With that said, Marshall likes his chances tonight.
"This is a mature, veteran team ... that is playing well together," Marshall said during Wednesday's NIT press conference. "They are sharing the ball and making good decisions by and large. They know how to execute and what to execute, we can get good looks and then it is just a matter of knocking them down."
Marshall has been well received at Wichita State. The team has played in the postseason the last two years.
The community has filled the 10,506-seat Charles Koch Arena for nearly every game this season.
Those were the same ingredients that made Marshall a hot commodity at Winthrop when he was considered a candidate for many coaching vacancies including American University, College of Charleston and South Florida.
He chose Wichita State of the Missouri Valley Conference. It's a league that placed just one team - Indiana State - in the NCAA tournament this season.
Marshall's name is a hot one again this year, but now he is being mentioned for jobs in the Big 12 (Missouri) and ACC (North Carolina State).
Marshall downplayed those rumors on Wednesday choosing instead to concentrate on winning the NIT for Wichita State.
Winthrop is the only program he has taken to the Big Dance.