What makes Wichita State the team to beat in the MVC?
There’s pedigree, depth and Gregg Marshall. But don’t forget about potential, even if the season is nearly halfway done.
"We've got guys playing that are just beginning their college careers with us. We could get healthy,” Marshall said Tuesday during his weekly press conference. “There's opportunities for them to grow individually, and if they get better individually, then we improve collectively."
With potential as the theme, here are several takeaways from the Shockers’ 80-72 win over Indiana State in the MVC opener for both teams.
The emergence of Darral Willis Jr.?
Big, if true. The Shockers have front court talent, but have gotten a surplus of inconsistent production. Rashard Kelly, Rauno Nurger and (the currently injured) Shaq Morris have had their moments, but none have stepped into a main role. Darral Willis Jr. has been the best of the bunch, and has taken his game to a different level lately.
After a 25-point, 10-rebound performance against ISU, the JuCo transfer has now notched a double-double in two of his last three games. He scored 15 first half points to keep WSU afloat in a back-and-forth game that was tied at the break.
It’s too early to anoint him the next Carl Hall, but he’s one of those guys beginning his college career that Marshall talked about, and he seems to be growing.
Markis McDuffie’s star turn
There’s a reason the sophomore was a preseason all-MVC first teamer despite playing under 20 minutes per game last season. On a team full of quality players, he’s the most likely to become a star.
He showed some of that cold-blooded, game-changing potential against the Sycamores. McDuffie had a big dunk after the Sycamores cut the lead to three with just under four minutes left, and then hit a pivotal three-pointer with 1:25 left to stretch the WSU lead to seven.
His 22 points were a career high, and he got there on an efficient nine-of-11 shooting.
Worry from distance?
The Shockers struggled from three (4-for-18) in what has been a recipe for losses.
WSU has shot under 27 percent in all three of their defeats, and while they’ve also won three such games, it’s a crack in otherwise reliable offense. Getting a slumping Conner Frankamp going is a priority, as the junior has gone 6-for-22 from deep over the past five games.
Potential doesn’t just belong to the Shockers
The formula has become predictable for ISU. The Sycamores and their solid defense can play with most anyone (ask Butler) if Brenton Scott is awesome and Matt Van Scyoc is hitting a lot of three’s.
VIDEO: Jordan Barnes with two critical three's to make this a 69-67 ball game! Hulman Center is getting loud! 3:23 left! #True2Blue pic.twitter.com/mrk8L0bzAd— Sycamore Basketball (@IndStMBB) December 29, 2016
But freshman Jordan Barnes has the makings of a reliable third scorer. Barnes (10 points) scored in double figures for the second straight game, and had an impact down the stretch with two huge three’s. He’s a player to keep an eye on.