Wichita State Preview — 1/11/2017

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.

LINKS

Ramblermania Discussion
Loyola game notes: Pending
Wichita State game notes: Pending
TV/Streaming video: CSN Chicago/ESPN3
Vegas odds: Pending

Bradley Preview — 1/07/2017

Saturday, January 7, 2017 7:00 p.m.
Carver Arena, Peoria, Ill.

If you haven’t been noticing, Bradley is getting better. In the second year of a rebuilding program under former Green Bay Coach Brian Wardle, the Braves are starting to generate some excitement in Peoria. BU’s conference season opener on December 29 against SIU drew 5989 fans, the largest crowd of the season by several hundred. The Braves won that game, and then got their second conference road win in the past two years by knocking off Evansville 74-63. At 2-1 after their first three conference games, it’s Bradley’s best start in conference play since 2012-13.

Above: Inside Carver Arena, from BradleyBraves.com

As recently as 2009-10, Bradley was averaging 9339 in home attendance. That figure dropped under 7000 for the first time since the early 90s in 2013-14, and under 6000 for the first time since the early 70s (at Robertson Fieldhouse) in 2014-15.

Fueling the improvement are three newcomers in the starting lineup. Freshman Darrell Brown is a 5’10” speedster out of Memphis who leads the team in scoring (11.8 ppg), assists (42), minutes (30.1 mpg) and made three pointers (26). Unfortunately, he also leads the team in turnovers (44), and shoots only 41.7% on two-pointers. JoJo McGlaston 6’5” junior guard/forward who transfered from Utah State. McGlaston averages 9.9 points and 4.3 rebounds per game, but has a tendency to get into foul trouble despite averaging only 22.1 mpg. The third newcomer is 6’10” freshman starting center Koch Bar, who leads the team in blocks (24) and rebounds (6.2 rpg) while adding 6.5 points per game. Bar doesn’t take a lot of shots, but if he gets the ball near the basket, it’s probably going in.

Rounding out the likely starters are returnees Donte Thomas, a 6’7” junior forward from Thornwood High in South Holland, and Antoine Pittman, a 6’3” sophomore guard out of Rockford. Thomas is a great rebounder who averages 5.2 boards and 4.6 points in only 17.7 minutes per game. He has given Loyola problems in the past, most notably the game at Gentile Arena last year where he sank a late three pointer to give Bradley its only road win of the year. Pittman averages 6.6 points and 1.9 rebounds per game, and may be their best perimeter defender.

The interesting Bradley newcomers have knocked some of last year’s many newcomers back to the bench. Six-nine sophomore forward Luuk van Bree (Netherlands) and 6’9” sophomore center Callum Barker (a former Loyola recruit from the island of Tasmania) join another overseas player Dwayne Lautier-Ogunleye, a 6’3” sophomore guard from London, coming off the bench. Lautier-Ogunleye gets some starts, and has played well against Loyola in the past; he’s averaging 7.8 points and 3.5 boards. Van Bree averages 6 points and 3.2 rebounds to go with five blocks and a team-leading 13 steals. Barker plays an average of only 10.6 minutes per game and contributes 2.4 point and 2.1 rebounds.

Six-foot-six freshman guard Nate Kennell (5.4 points, 1.5 boards) and 6’3” freshman guard Jayden Hodgson (another Aussie, averaging 3.3 points and 1.3 rebounds) also make notable contributions. In all, there are 10 Braves that average double-digit minutes. The have a lot of fouls to give, and they use them strategically—Evansville shot 46 free throws in their 74-63 home loss to the Braves on Wednesday.

When Bradley scores over 70 points, they’re 6-1. When they score in the 60s they’re 1-4, and below 60 they’re 0-4. Conversely, when opponents score 63 or more, Bradley is 3-8. “First one to 63 wins!” – how’s that for a Loyola slogan?

Neither team is particularly good on the boards, despite Bradley’s size and depth in the front court. The Ramblers have more speed and better ball handling, so it may be a matter of whether Bradley can neutralize those assets that decides the game. The Braves are also highly prone to turnovers and fouls—Bradley has committed 51 more turnovers than their opponents, and seven different players have fouled out a total of 10 times. By comparison, the Ramblers have four players that have fouled out only six times, and Loyola has committed 60 fewer turnovers than their opponents. Perhaps the Ramblers should consider using a press, particularly if Bradley decides to go big.

Loyola needs to win this game, not only because it’s one they’re supposed to win, but because the next two are at 13-3 Wichita State and home against 11-5 Missouri State. It will also help take the lingering sting off losing at Drake.

LINKS

Ramblermania Discussion
Loyola game notes (PDF)
Bradley game notes: Pending
TV/Streaming video: ESPN 3

Vegas odds: Pending

Northern Iowa Preview — 1/04/2017

Wednesday, January 4, 2017 6:00 p.m.
Gentile Arena, Chicago, Ill.

Sometimes when the task of writing Loyola game previews becomes grim– like for instance during a three-game losing streak when the team probably should have won at least two of the three games– I like to find little things to amuse myself. When looking over the Northern Iowa roster and box scores, the first thing I thought was the roster has a lot of names that sound like former Nixon administration aides. Klint Carlson, Wyatt Lohaus, Spencer Haldeman, Hunter Rhodes and Ted Friedman are not Watergate defendants, they’re UNI players.

The other thing that caught my eye is UNI is having one of their worst seasons in a long while. Sure, they were picked to finish third in the MVC, Jeremy Morgan was preseason player of the year, and they beat Arizona State and Oklahoma to start the year. But since then, they’ve eight of their last ten and four in a row. At 4-8 against Division I teams and off to an 0-2 start in conference, the Panthers are in serious danger of having their first season under .500 since 2002-03.

In the past, the UNI formula has been for wave after wave of new recruits, gym rats, and coaches’ sons to step in to take the place of the predecessors they’ve understudied. But the reliability and precision of the model has come apart this year. Last season the Panthers had four players average double digits in points, and as a team they shot 51.6% on their two-point field goal attempts. This year they have one player in double digits, and they’re shooting only 44.1% on two-pointers. Their normally excellent three point shooting is down, too, from 37.4% last year to 35.3% this season. And without Wes Washpun’s ability to drive to the basket and make defense into offense, their already deliberate pace has slowed to a crawl.

Coach Jacobson has been mixing and matching lineups, trying different players in different quantities to find a winning formula. The only constant has been 6’5” senior guard Jeremy Morgan, the only UNI player to start every game this season. Morgan averages 17.5 ppg and 7.0 rebounds, leading the team in both categories. And while we’re at it, he leads the team in blocks, steals, assists, made three pointers, made free throws, and free throw percentage. Joining him in the back court is 6’1” redshirt freshman guard Spencer Haldeman, who was named Iowa high school player of the year two years ago. Haldeman is the second leading scorer on the team at 8.9 points per game, and shoots the three at a decent clip— but he’s taken only 15 shots all year inside the three-point arc. Jordan Ashton, a 6’4” senior guard who averages 7.0 points and 3.7 rebounds, has been starting sometimes– depending on matchups. Ashton has been taking a lot of the minutes expected to go to 6’2” junior Wyatt Lohaus, who has been suffering from an ankle injury since late November and has only played six games this season.

The big men are where UNI has probably suffered the most. Six-seven junior forward Klint Carlson made a significant improvement from his freshman to sophomore season, but has regressed a bit as a junior. He’s averaging 8.0 points and 4.3 rebounds, but his free throw and two point field goal percentage has declined from last year. Bennet Koch is a 6’9” junior forward who starts or comes off the bench depending on the matchups and averages 8.2 point and 1.9 rebounds. Six-foot-nine junior center Ted Friedman also gets starts on occasions but is not a major scoring factor, scoring only 12 points on the season.

Jawan McCloud, a 5’11” freshman guard has been getting uneven time while averaging 4.0 ppg on the year. He had a good game last time out with 13 points against Evansville, so he might be a starter against the Ramblers. Also coming off the bench are 6’5” freshman guard Isiah Brown, and 6’11” freshman center Justin Dahl.

The Ramblers have always played the Panthers pretty tough no matter how good or bad the teams are. Loyola is 3-4 against UNI since joining he league, thanks to a Loyola sweep last year. But UNI is resilient, and they play with a lot of pride.

Things also didn’t look too good for UNI at about this time last year. On Jan. 23, 2016, the Panthers were at 10-11 overall and 2-6 in conference after a loss at Illinois State. From then on, they went 13-1 before being eliminated in the third round of the NCAA Tournament in double overtime. Their one loss from late January to mid March was a 59-56 loss at Gentile Arena. Hopefully that doesn’t mean Loyola is at the top of UNI’s enemies list, and the Panthers will wait one more game before coming alive and turning around their season, as they usually do.

LINKS

Loyola game notes: Pending

Ramblermania message board discussion

Northern Iowa game notes (PDF)

TV/Streaming video: Comcast Sportsnet Chicago, ESPN3

Radio: WLUW 88.7 FM (Get the app!)

Vegas odds: Pending