The preseason expectations Wichita State easily exceeded as the champion of the American Athletic Conference already make the Shockers a presumptive lock for the NCAA Tournament.
So, the AAC tournament is an opportunity to add another trophy that only a select few figured Wichita State (15-4) would acquire this season. The top-seeded Shockers carry a seven-game winning streak into the quarterfinal round Friday against South Florida (9-12) at Fort Worth, Texas.
South Florida advanced from Thursday's first-round session by edging Temple 73-71 behind a game-high 23 points from David Collins.
"We don't have to make it to the championship game, but hopefully we can," said Wichita State coach Isaac Brown, whose team clinched the AAC regular-season title with an 80-63 win over South Florida on Saturday. "We're going down there for one thing -- and that's to win it."
The season has already taken on storybook proportions for Brown, who became interim coach after Gregg Marshall's 10-year tenure and 331-121 run ended following allegations he verbally and physically abused players and staff.
Brown, an assistant under Marshall, accepted a difficult challenge created by the offseason turmoil, which included the departure of six players. He then directed the pursuit of a regular-season league title that led to his promotion as full-time coach and AAC Coach of the Year honors.
"We first got the job and just wanted to keep these guys together," Brown said. "We tried to make them play as a unit, play as one, and get them to believe in the coaching staff. That was the main thing right there, getting those veteran guys to believe in us."
Guard Tyson Etienne not only showed off the shooting form he displayed a season earlier, but also developed into a versatile offensive threat by improving off the bounce. He averaged 17.1 points and 3.1 made 3s, sharing the AAC's Co-Player of the Year award with Houston's Quentin Grimes.
"I think the growth in my game came from an internal place," said Etienne, "and building the confidence and building belief in myself just knowing I am what I believe I am."
The Shockers will be without two unnamed players at the AAC tournament because of COVID-19 protocols. The Wichita Eagle reported those players are Trevin Wade (2.1 points per game) and Jaden Seymour (1.8 points). Also, Josaphat Bilau (knee) and Isaiah Poor Bear-Chandler (ankle) are dealing with injuries.
South Florida committed only seven turnovers while earning its first AAC tournament win since 2016. In addition to Collins' output, Michael Durr added a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
"Five of those seven (turnovers) were in transition, so we were aggressive making plays and I'm fine with that," Bulls coach Brian Gregory said. "That's a key going into (Friday), taking care of the basketball and getting shots up on the rim."
--Field Level Media