"Out of the respect for the coach and coaching staff at Wichita State and their team, I don't even want to go there," said ISU head coach Larry Eustachy when asked of the possibility of playing Iowa. "We're taking today as the biggest day of the year, and tomorrow will be even bigger. We've never looked ahead and won't start doing it now."
Given the recent success of the Shockers, who fell just one point short of beating MVC power and NCAA-qualifier Creighton in the conference tournament, it's a little easier for Eustachy's team to focus on the task at hand.
"They played Kansas State and Oklahoma State tough, and that's our best comparison," said Jake Sullivan, who leads the Cyclones into postseason play averaging 17.1 points a game. "They really got a lot of respect from me what they did down at Okie State. What some of their guys did was pretty impressive. They played Creighton tough as well. It's going to be a tough matchup. We have to come focused these next two days of practice and make sure we get a win."
Wichita State put up valiant fights against all three opponents before succumbing late. Guard Randy Burns is likely to receive a lot of attention when ISU formulates a game plan. He averaged 23 points while leading his team in scoring against the K-State, OSU and Creighton.
His 15.2-point scoring average leads the Shockers, who also have two others in double figures (Jamar Howard with 14.3 and Aaron Hogg with 12.5).
"I've watched tape and we've moved practice back because of how good they are," Eustachy said. "We need more time. We're scattered all over the country trying to get as much information as we can. We have a ton of respect for their coach and what they do. This is a big game to them, and I hope it's just as big if not bigger for us. That has to be the key – who's more determined to win the game.
"I watched the Kansas State-Wichita State game. They're a young team that has a couple seniors, and kind of mirror us. They're playing their best basketball by far. We'd like to think that both teams have the ability to play their best game on Wednesday night. It's a matter of who has the eye of the tiger and is more determined."
ISU has shown determination down the stretch of the 2002-03 season, winning four of its last seven games after struggling mightily in January and early February with just two victories over a span of nine contests. Eustachy's team has won five of its last six home games, which will provide some confidence when it hosts the Shockers Wednesday.
"I don't think we're playing our best, but we're playing better than we were," said Jackson Vroman, who has double-doubles in five of his last six games and scored 24 points and 12 rebounds against Kansas last week. "I think there is room for improvement. I think we're playing well enough to do something in this tournament. These coaches have gotten us well prepared and we have home-court advantage, which is nice."
In lieu of the NIT berth and bright future, Eustachy likes the overall outlook in the program.
"Looking back long term, these last two years we've been knocked down and knocked down and knocked down," he said. "I'm particularly proud of Jake Sullivan, who has hung in there through the most adverse conditions. He's playing when he shouldn't be playing at times. He's equaled anybody's minutes on the court the last two years. He keeps getting back up and has been with us through thick and thin.
"It's a good situation right now for our program. We have a good feeling. We feel like the ball isn't rolling at us anymore. We've kind of stopped the huge ball and are pushing it back and rolling the right way. It's nice. I'm proud of the character we have in the program."