Does undefeated mid-major Wichita State rank as America's favorite in the NCAA tournament?
Maybe not on Friday.
"We've shocked some people," said Cal Poly freshman guard Markel Leonard of Richmond. "I think a lot of people are starting to root for Cal Poly."
The Mustangs, just 10-19 entering the Big West tournament, will play their fifth game in eight days when they tackle the 34-0 Shockers at Scottrade Arena in St. Louis.
Cal Poly won three times to capture the Big West title and its first NCAA tournament bid, then beat Texas Southern 81-69 in a "First Four" game on Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio, to secure a No. 16 seed in the 64-team bracket.
The alma mater of John Madden and "Weird Al" Yankovic has a famous alum from St. Louis in its corner. The team reached out to Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith, who agreed to meet with players and coaches Thursday night or pre-game Friday.
"If that's not a reason for St. Louis to cheer for the Mustangs, I don't know what it is going to be," Cal Poly coach Joe Callero said.
Coach Gregg Marshall, who led tiny Winthrop into seven NCAA tournaments before landing at Wichita State, has lived what Cal Poly is experiencing.
"I've been there," he said. "I know exactly what they are feeling."
By midnight after its win over Texas Southern, the Mustangs were on a plane to St. Louis. It's been a blur, said Leonard, a Salesian High graduate who had to take a public speaking final exam on Thursday morning before practice.
"Pandemonium," forward Chris Eversley called the experience.
Oklahoma State-Gonzaga: This is a big reason why Marcus Smart passed up the NBA draft and returned for his sophomore season at Oklahoma State. The ninth-seeded Cowboys (21-12) face No. 8 Gonzaga (28-6) on Friday in San Diego, with both teams hoping to erase bad memories of earlier-than-expected NCAA tournament exits last March.
For Smart, it's the final chapter of his college career. He said he doesn't regret returning to school. He said he learned from his three-game suspension for shoving a Texas Tech fan. "This team has made my decision to come back well worth my while," he said. "These are a group of guys that I've got a bond with that will never be broken."
Meanwhile, Gonzaga isn't in the spotlight it was in last season, when it was ranked No. 1 in the nation and seeded No. 1 in the West Region. The Zags beat Southern before being stunned 76-70 by No. 9 Wichita State, which went on to the Final Four. "Last year we were being talked about like Wichita State is this year," guard Kevin Pangos said. "People were criticizing us and praising us. ... This year we're floating under the radar."
Kentucky: Freshman Marcus Lee of Deer Valley High-Antioch, who scored 17 points in his Wildcats debut, said he could not be happier in Lexington, even as his playing time has dwindled the second half of the season.
"It's been an amazing adventure, just being at Kentucky. Working our butts off to do greatness is an amazing thing," said Lee, whose Wildcats face Kansas State in St. Louis on Friday.
The 6-foot-9 forward, who averaged 17.5 points, 19.5 rebounds and 6.7 blocks per game as a high school senior, has totaled just 17 minutes the past 13 games.
"I'm totally encouraged by my future here," he said. "They push me every day. I know this is the greatest place for me."
Kentucky coach John Calipari noted Lee's time on the floor diminished after he got sick and lost 15 pounds. But Calipari said his staff is excited about Lee's potential.
"Every game we put him in he has been effective," Calipari said. "He is an outstanding talent."
Wake Forest: The school announced coach Jeff Bzdelik's resignation after four seasons. He went 51-76 at Wake Forest with a 17-51 record in ACC play. The Demon Deacons were 17-16 this season -- their first winning season under him -- but that wasn't enough to satisfy an increasingly splintered fan base. Bzdelik said in a statement issued by the school that he resigned because "there needs to be a positive environment for the players to realize their potential."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.