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Midwest Region: Unbeaten Wichita State's path littered with perennial powers

| Sunday, March 16, 2014, 9:36 p.m.
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Wichita State’s Cleanthony Early says, despite the Shockers earning a No. 1 seed, the team has something to prove. “And when you will be facing programs that people think you can’t beat, those are the types of challenges you need to prove yourself,” he said.

Wichita State's reward for a perfect regular season is a loaded Midwest Region, where the top-seeded Shockers will be joined by fellow Final Four participants Michigan and Louisville from a year ago and two of the bluest blue-bloods in college hoops. Now that's something for the Shockers to be angry about.

Coach Gregg Marshall's team landed the first No. 1 seed in school history Sunday and will begin play Friday in St. Louis, where it ran its record to 34-0 by winning the Missouri Valley tournament title last weekend. The Shockers will open against the winner of a First Four game between Big West champion Cal Poly and SWAC champion Texas Southern.

Also inhabiting the Midwest are the second-seeded Wolverines and fourth-seeded Cardinals, who played each other in last year's title game won by Louisville. Then there's No. 3 seed Duke and No. 8 seed Kentucky, programs with pedigrees that match up with anybody.

Not much of a prize for Wichita State, the first school to reach the NCAA Tournament with a perfect record since UNLV in 1991. In fact, the minefield might just give the Shockers a good reason to keep “playing angry,” the mantra they've adopted.

“I feel like I have something to prove, and my teammates have something to prove,” the Shockers' Cleanthony Early said. “And when you will be facing programs that people think you can't beat, those are the types of challenges you need to prove yourself.”

If the Shockers advance, they'll await the winner of Kentucky and No. 9 seed Kansas State, a school that rarely plays them even though they're a few hours' drive from each other.

In other second-round games, Big Ten regular-season champ Michigan will open against No. 15 seed Wofford of the Southern Conference; Duke will face No. 14 seed Mercer of the Atlantic Sun; Louisville will get No. 13 seed Manhattan from the MAAC; and No. 7 seed Texas will play No. 10 seed Arizona State in a Big 12-Pac-12 matchup.

The Midwest Region also includes two First Four games involving bubble teams: No. 12 seeds North Carolina State and Xavier will meet in Dayton, Ohio, for the right to face No. 5 seed Saint Louis, and No. 11 seeds Iowa and Tennessee will meet for a shot at No. 6 seed Massachusetts.

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