OTTAWA -- Speaking from personal experience, sometimes taking a vacation with your significant other can end up exposing everything that is wrong with the relationship itself. You think that going away for a few days to a foreign country and getting a little sunshine will be good for the two of you, only to realize that your partner's annoying little habits are amplified tenfold after spending 24 hours a day with each other.
I’m sure when the powers that be at Wichita State arranged this four-game preseason trip to Canada, they thought it would be a nice opportunity for some team bonding and a great opportunity for Gregg Marshall and his staff to figure out which players would fit nicely into their rotation as they vie for another Missouri Valley title.
The post-Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet era started off fine after an easy 107-58 over the University of Quebec at Montreal. However on the second day of the trip, things started to get interesting, as the Shockers were handed an embarrassing 25-point loss at the hands of Carleton University -- a team that has won six consecutive national championships in Canada.
Following the Carleton game, Marshall and his players looked somewhat bewildered at what had just happened. Marshall didn’t bother hiding his displeasure at his team’s performance.
"They were the tougher team and that’s what I don’t like," he said.
Not only was Carleton the tougher team, it seemed by far the more talented team. 6-7 forward Ryan Ejim -- younger brother of Melvin Ejim -- had a game-high 18 points and seemed to score at will against the young Shockers defenders, hitting on 8-11 field goal attempts.
"Hopefully these guys have enough backbone and pride and will to improve upon this bad showing," Marshall said. "Thankfully this is August 7th and not November 7th."
Two nights later in Montreal, the wheels completely fell off for Wichita State and could be the cause of grave concern moving into the season, after Marshall had his now-infamous Bobby Knight-esque tirade. Marshall completely lost his mind and stormed the court at an official after a few missed calls and had to be restrained by several of his own assistants. He was later suspended for the final game of the Shockers' Canadian tour.
The biggest question heading into the season for Wichita State remains how it will replace VanVleet and Baker, not only on the court, but in the locker room.
"We’ve got to figure out [where] the leadership is going to come from and they’ve got to exhibit it on a daily basis," he said. "There’s only so much we can do on the bench. We’ve got to actually have somebody that can verbalize and help run our team on the court."
One of the bright spots for the Shockers during the preseason tour was the emergence of Landry Shamet. The 6-4 guard played in three games last year before suffering a stress fracture in his foot. Shamet is Marshall’s highest-rated recruit since coming to Wichita, and his talent and athleticism are evident. He plays bigger than his 6-4 frame and has exceptional ball handling ability, great movement off the ball and a smooth shot delivery. Defensively, he can smother his opponents and create turnovers when pressing.
But Shamet's performance was merely a silver lining for what will be remembered as a tough trip for the Shockers, especially when put into the context of their overwhelming success the last few seasons. Perhaps it was those unrealistic expectations that came to a boiling point for Marshall in Montreal.
"I obviously have a great challenge in front of me and as a competitor," Marshall said. I’m excited about that."
Moving forward, Marshall vowed: "We’ll be a lot better in a couple of months. I promise you that."