Wednesday, January 11, 2017 6:00 p.m.
Koch Arena, Wichita, Kan.
How to describe the 2016-17 Wichita State Shockers in one word? Depth. In two words? Startling depth. In three words? Unbelievably startling depth.
Most teams have about 9 to 11 players who make appearances in more than half their games; Wichita State has 16. Ten different Shockers scored in the first half of their game on Sunday at UNI. Ten players average more than 4.7 points per game. They’ve had nine different players lead (or tie for the lead) in scoring in their 17 games this season. Eleven different players have collected 20 or more rebounds on the season, 11 players have double digits in free throw attempts, nine players have double-digits in assists, eight players have double-digits in three point attempts, and seven different players have double-digits in steals. There are ten players who average double-digits in minutes, and all of them have between 24.1 per game (redshirt freshman Landry Shamet) and 13.3 per game (true freshman Austin Reeves).
And Coach Gregg Marshall has been mixing and matching his starting lineup from his deep bench, presumably to keep his players motivated, rested, tuned to the strengths of the opponents, and content with their playing time. The only player to start every game, and the only player to start more than 75% of the Shockers’ games, is Landry Shamet, who’s started all 17 games on the season. The next highest player (Zach Brown) has 12, and Daishon Smith has 10. Six other players have between 5 and 9 starts.
My guess on WSU’s starting lineup against Loyola is: 6’1” junior Daishon Smith and 6’4”redshirt freshman Landry Shamet at the guard spots, and 6’9” juco Darral Willis, 6’8” sophomore Markis McDuffie, and 6’7” junior Zach Brown playing forward. That’s just a guess, based on a previous starting lineup. I could also see Zach Brown sitting to start the game in favor of 6’1” guard Conner Frankamp, or Willis taking a seat in favor of 6’10” center Rauno Nurger… or 6’8” center Shaquille Morris. Rashard Kelly, a 6’7” junior forward who is the 10th leading scorer on the Shockers, but had a good game last year against Loyola (11 points, four rebounds in 17 minutes) and has five previous appearances against the Ramblers could also start. Also coming off the bench is Austin Reeves, a 6’5” true freshman guard who is averaging 6.0 points per game and leads the league in three-point percentage by hitting 22 of 40 shots (55%). The point is, whichever starting lineup WSU begins with, there are going to be three or four players starting the game on the bench who would be starters for 7 or 8 of the other teams in the league.
When the Shockers lose, or run into trouble, it’s usually because more than one person in the starting lineup has a very bad night. Against Oklahoma State, the Shocks shot only 36.5% from the field, connected on only three three-pointers in 17 tries, got out-rebounded, and allowed the Cowboys to shoot 52.5% from the field. Markis McDuffy, Daishon Smith, and Landry Shamet combined to go 4 of 20 from the field against OSU. Against Louisville, the starters came out flat in the first half, shooting only 5 for 16 for the first 20 minutes. The bench did even worse, and by halftime Wichita State was in a 33-17 hole, from which they never really recovered. Against Michigan State, WSU came back from trailing by 18 in the second half to cut the margin to one point after the starting lineup managed only 15 points combined (out of the 72 points the team scored)—which also tells you how versatile and talented the Shockers’ bench is. The only one of the Shocker wins that was in doubt was against Oklahoma in OKC. The WSU defense was great, holding OU to just 30.8% from the field, but tight coverage resulted in 34 Sooner free throw attempts to keep them in it—yet no Shocker fouled out, thanks to having multiple weapons at every position and plenty of fouls to give.
And the really scary part? There are only two seniors on WSU’s roster, and they’re both walk-ons. From right now the 14-3 Shockers Loyola will face on Wednesday will be the least experienced, the least developed, and least practiced they’ll be for the next year and a half. They’re just going to get better and more experienced from now through the end of 2017-18.
What the Ramblers need to do in this game is assert their few advantages by control the tempo and style of the game—hard to do on the road against a really good team, but the more of the game they can dictate, the better their chances. Loyola has been generally good at neutralizing big men by cutting off passing lanes and doubling big men in the post. As always, WSU leads the league in rebounding, and this team is no different—right now WSU has 14% more total rebounds than the next best team in the MVC, and they are 8th nationally in rebounding margin. Additionally, the Shockers are 33rd in the nation in steals. So valuing possessions, making WSU work hard on defense, and using quickness to establish rebounding position and keep the rebounding margin respectable is essential for Loyola to have a chance to win.
Excluding Reeves, the Shocks are a good, but not a spectacular three-point shooting team—Loyola is tops in the league. And although WSU is second in the MVC in overall field goal percentage, they are a far distant second behind the Ramblers. Believe it or not, Loyola has more field goals on the season than the Shockers, with 87 fewer shots attempted. The Ramblers need to use the advantage of better field goal efficiency by limiting the number of field goal attempts by WSU by any means possible, and making doubly sure they are patient when necessary to get good shots on their end. And finally, Loyola needs to keep WSU off the free throw line, as WSU is 35th in the nation in getting to the line and 71st in free throw percentage. Wichita State has scored 20.8% of their points from the foul line. For comparison, Loyola– the second-highest scoring team in the league– has tallied just 14.9% of their points from freebies.
Things are going to have to break right for Loyola on every level for the Ramblers to get their first win against Wichita State since joining the MVC. And they’re going to have to go spectacularly well while WSU has a very bad night for the Ramblers to snatch only the second win for a conference visitor at WSU since Feb. 27, 2013.