Jeff Curry-US PRESSWIRE
Wichita State was one of the best mid-major teams last season, but the bulk of that team has moved on. Packed with transfer and young players, can the remaining pieces of last year's squad combine to make the Shockers a contender again in the Missouri Valley?
In so many of those previews, everyone expects them to be back. That despite losing their top five scorers from last season, including Garrett Stutz, the stud center for the Shockers who earned a number of long looks in the NBA Draft.
There are pieces there: Carl Hall is the most noticeable, after averaging 8.4 points and 5.0 rebounds while mostly coming off the bench. Oregon transfer Malcolm Armstead also gives the Shockers a quick fill-in for the loss of Joe Ragland at the point.
But the only other returning player with a great deal of experience, Demetric Williams, was a turnover machine last season. He may have only handled the ball on 13.1 percent of the Wichita State possessions last season, but more than 22 percent of those ended up with the opponent holding the ball. Williams didn't even make up for it with his passing, or on the defensive end.
He just wasn't good, and ended with the worst HW30 score on the team (-1.92 HW30). Oh, and he is coming off of ankle surgery.
He is just the most significant reason why there should be some doubt for Gregg Marshall's team. The defense might be there, although the departed players were also the most effective on that end of the court. But someone still has to score for this team, and beyond Hall and Williams -- when he isn't giving away the ball -- there isn't a truly effective scorer on the roster.
It might be that Armstead has to become the type of combo guard we are used to ruling the day at the mid-major ranks. Or maybe one of the former backups (Ehimen Orukpe was a stud on defense, but not much the other way; Tekele Cotton was slightly below average on both ends) finds their groove with more minutes.
But it is just too hazy to know for sure.
It didn't help that Monday the school announced that Joe Mitchell, a junior college transfer who sat out last season, won't be playing this season. Mitchell will look to transfer again, apparently because a supposed promise of a scholarship didn't happen.
The loss of Mitchell means that Marshall will depend more and more on the youth of the team. The good news is that Wichita State landed the rare top-100 recruit at the mid-major level in Fred Van Vleet. The guard was an Illinois Mr. Basketball candidate and a pretty good scorer and distributor in high school.
Based on some projections he won't take long to make an impact on the offensive end either. It won't be perfect right off the bat, but he will immediately be one of the better offensive options on the Shockers.
All of this is the long way of saying there should be some serious doubts about Wichita State this season, even if the defense is of the typical shutdown variety. I won't write them off totally, but I can't seriously believe that they might be as high as third in the Missouri Valley, at least not with what there is on paper.
Bottom Line: The Shockers lost a lot off of last season's 27 win season, a year that had them as the second best mid-major according to the MRI.
Gregg Marshall has done a decent job of filling in the holes, but the additions don't make Wichita State complete. The defense might be in place, but the offense doesn't look like it will fire at the same rate as last year.
This looks like a year in which the Missouri Valley could have a solid block of four teams (Creighton -- obviously -- Illinois State, Northern Iowa and Evansville). Wichita could find itself competing in that pack with a little improvement from its core, but it is more likely the Shockers will be on the outside looking in, especially come March.