When your fearless mascot takes a tumble down the arena stairs during the first half of the semi-finals in a tournament, call me superstitious but it’s game over. Not only did Wu fall, but he suffered what was thought to be a broken ankle. Turns out it’s a high ankle sprain, but nonetheless our Great Bundle of Wheat had to be carried out of the arena. And to make matters worse, the Shox soon fell to Indiana State and crushed all hope of an invite to the NCAA tournment.
Saturday afternoon exemplified an entire season. Quite possibly I should have listened to my father when the Shockers were picked to win the Valley, “Don’t get your hopes up, I don’t think they’re that good of a team.” Come on, Dad. Don’t be so pessimistic. This is our year. We have the pieces. We’re going all the way.
But with expectations so elevated, there was only one way for Shocker fans to truly go and that was down. And down. And down. Yes, one can argue a 25-7 record boasts of a winning season and it is, unless you’re in the Missouri Valley. As a so-called Mid-Major, a 25-7 record will get you a possible home game in the NIT. In comparison, Michigan State with a sorry record of 17-13 is still being considered a bubble team for the real dance. Seriously.
But that’s a whole other lament. With a record of 25-7, one expects a conference title, if not a tournament championship, but alas, the Shox brought home neither. What we suffered were four horrific home losses, a continuing saga of “will the real starting five please stand up”, and a whole lot of head scratching.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my Shockers. But had I not let my own fantasies of circling the Shox on my NCAA bracket get in the way and listened to my dad, Saturday’s loss would not have hurt so darn bad. And hurt it did. All the way down to my black and gold soul. As a matter of fact, it still hurts. And if it hurts for me, I can’t imagine what those young men must be feeling.
My dad blames a lot of this season on coaching. Where we needed a true point guard, we had a trifecta of nervous point guards. Where we needed to keep our big men in the paint, we had big men pretending to be shooting guards and taking three’s. When we needed a real starting five, we had somewhat ten. And then, when a player was hot with their shot, covering their man, bringing energy to the floor, suddenly they were substituted by a player who’s highest stats of the game were those of turnovers.
See, I told you I was still upset. I’m sure when the pain subsides I’ll be able to look back on this season and remember the highlights. Moments like sweeping Creighton, including on their home court, the triple-OT win at home against Indiana State (I guess we should have seen this coming), the almost undefeated road record. Those were good times. Of course, the main highlight is always sitting with my dad in that arena, wearing our black and gold, and watching the boys warm up.
If WuShock can bear the pain, so can I. We are Wheatshockers. We can and will endure and always come back stronger, even if it does take us a little while to bounce back after the storm.
Maybe Wu will let me borrow his crutches. Lord knows, I could use them.