Kragthorpe: Wichita State hoping to do what Butler did
Published: April 5, 2013 10:42AM
Updated: April 10, 2013 05:11PM
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Gonzaga and Wichita State battle for a rebound under the basket in the second half of a third-round game in the NCAA college basketball tournament in Salt Lake City on Saturday, March 23, 2013. Wichita State defeated Gonzaga 76-70. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Wichita State’s remarkable run in the NCAA Tournament is about to end.

Of course, I’ve been saying that ever since the No. 9-seeded Shockers arrived in Salt Lake City. Two weeks after advancing from EnergySolutions Arena, Wichita State will meet Louisville on Saturday in the national semifinals at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

With the tie-in of having come through Salt Lake City on their way to the Final Four, the Shockers naturally evoke comparisons to the 2010 Butler team that barely lost to Duke in the championship game. They have many of the same qualities as those Bulldogs, but the circumstances are much different.

When it comes to competing in the Final Four, Wichita State is more like George Mason in 2006 than Butler in 2010.

Michigan State was a No. 5 seed, like Butler, when those teams met in the semifinals — and the Spartans had lost their starting point guard to an injury earlier in the tournament. In the Shockers’ case, they’re facing a No. 1 seed that has rolled through the tournament, responding to guard Kevin Ware’s horrific injury by blowing out Duke in the second half of an Elite Eight game.

George Mason’s run to the Final Four resembled Wichita State’s unlikely trek, but the Patriots were overwhelmed by eventual champion Florida in the ‘06 semifinals, losing 73-58

Something like that probably will happen to the Shockers, although their hallmarks of defense and rebounding may allow them to be competitive against Louisville. Wichita State is a 10.5-point underdog — the biggest spread of any Final Four game since 1999, according to Pregame.com. The odds give WSU only a 7 percent chance of winning the title.

Then again, the Shockers have been favored only once during this tournament, when they met No. 13 seed La Salle in the West Region’s Sweet 16.

WSU blasted Pittsburgh and upset No. 1 seed Gonzaga at ESA, then beat La Salle and No. 2 seed Ohio State at Los Angeles to reach the Final Four. The Shockers emphasize defense and rebounding. There’s nothing fancy about them, but they’ve played their way to this point with tremendous poise and relentless effort.

Anyone who watched them play in Salt Lake City found them easy to like, and it would be a phenomenal story if they duplicated Butler’s run to Monday’s title game against Syracuse or Michigan.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt