LOS ANGELES - During Ohio State's journey to the Final Four last season, Aaron Craft learned the importance of focusing on the next 40 minutes, not the three-week trip.
Craft's thinking was a theme echoed on both sides of Staples Center on Friday during workouts for the final game in a regional that emphasized the parity throughout college basketball when six of the top eight seeds lost on the first weekend.
Anybody who tries to paint this matchup as David facing down Goliath will get polite disagreement from the supposed big guy and the alleged little guy alike.
That's just not how college basketball works anymore, according to both Craft and Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall. Neither team has any doubt Wichita State (29-8) belongs on the same court with the mighty Buckeyes (29-7) for a chance to go to Atlanta.
"We have to go out there and play our hearts out," Wichita State's Cleanthony Early said. "So regardless if their facilities are a little bit bigger than ours, they've got to lace up their shoes just like us."
Sure, the Shockers can't match Ohio State's financial resources or alumni base, but they've got everything else necessary to play with the Buckeyes for those 40 minutes - and even pull off one more surprise in their charmed run through March.
"What I love is the fact they're not really bouncing off the wall," Marshall said of his Shockers. "They seem to be legitimately unsatisfied thus far. We know we've got a great opponent and a tremendous challenge, but at the same time, we're in that Elite Eight game.
"We have an opportunity, and our best is going to be hard to beat."
Wichita State is making its first regional finals appearance since 1981, looking for a spot in its first Final Four since the school's only previous trip in 1965. And the Shockers are still burning with confidence from beating top-ranked and top-seeded Gonzaga last weekend - not bad for a team that didn't win the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, but could get the MVC to the Final Four for the first time.
Syracuse vs. Marquette
WASHINGTON - With the Big East as we know it coming to an end, Marquette coach Buzz Williams no doubt figured he'd seen the last of Syracuse's zone for a while.
He's a got a 290-pound player on the bench who can't wait to face it again.
"I know about spacing," Davante Gardner said Friday. "So they'll change it up and try to lock me down."
It takes a bit of bravado for a backup junior forward to have a "bring it on" attitude over Syracuse's 2-3 fortress, especially after the way coach Jim Boeheim's team dominated Indiana on Thursday night, but Gardner had a standout game against the zone last month and can't wait for the rematch when the third-seeded Golden Eagles (26-8) face the fourth-seeded Orange (29-9) today with a berth in the Final Four on the line.
"I love playing against athletic guys," Gardner went on. "Because they think they can just stop me. But I use my weight to push them around."
Gardner had success the last time these teams played, a 74-71 Marquette victory Feb. 25. Gardner went 7 for 7 from the field, 12 for 13 from the line, grabbed eight rebounds and scored a career-high 26 points.
"He got a lot of offensive rebounds, they found him in the lane, and he made good plays," Boeheim said.
"To me he's a very good player down there, and we obviously have to do better with him, for sure."