Wichita State is intent on sending a message and the Shockers are one of the hottest teams in college basketball. The Missouri Valley Conference regular season and tournament champions have won 21 of their last 22 games and 15 straight. 19 of those 22 wins have come by 10 or more points.
Gregg Marshall’s team has taken its motto of “play angry” to a whole new level. This young team (there are no seniors in the typical rotation) took a while to gel, and they are intent on proving that Shocker basketball deserves to run with the big boys of college hoops.
The Shockers (30-4) have won four straight MVC regular season titles and two of the last four Valley postseason crowns. They have qualified for six straight NCAA Tournaments and have won nine NCAA Tournament games in the past four years.
How they can win: The 3 Ds
Wichita State wins with the 3 Ds: depth, defense, and determination.
The Shockers play at least 10 interchangeable players every game. Nine different Shockers have led the team in scoring, and only the Valley’s Freshman of the Year Landry Shamet, has started every game. Marshall has the second-highest scoring bench in the nation, averaging over 35 points per game, and because of waves of athletic and talented players, their effectiveness grows as the game wears on. Wichita State is second only to Gonzaga in margin of victory (19.6 points per game).
Those fresh legs help execute Marshall’s defensive schemes. A tenacious defensive unit, the Shockers have suffocated teams into abysmal shooting percentages all season. Their .378 defensive field goal percentage has been a top five number most of the season. Seven Shocker opponents have failed to reach the 50-point plateau.
Shocker basketball is all about passion and determination. If you haven’t seen Wichita State, then think of those aggressive Michigan State rebounding teams. The Shockers out-rebound their opponents by more than eight per game. They grab just under 12 offensive rebounds per contest, and if there is a loose ball, the black and gold jerseys are diving on the floor.
How they can lose
Because of their great depth, they’ve only recently determined who their go-to players are in tight situations. Shamet has led them in scoring a team-leading nine times. The recent emergence of fellow guard Conner Frankamp has created problems for opponents. Both players make better than 44 percent of their three-point shots, but too often, this unselfish team forgets who should have the ball during tight times. There are too many occasions when the ball ends up in the wrong player’s hands, or the Shockers don’t find the right player in the right spot.
A lack of competition could hurt WSU. They’ve been winning so easily, you wonder if they are prepared for the true test of NCAA Tournament-caliber teams. Illinois State (27-6) handed them their only loss in the last 22 games and in two subsequent contests, Wichita destroyed the Redbirds by 41 and 20 points. They haven’t been truly tested since a mid-December loss to Oklahoma State.
Despite all the depth and talent, this is a young team. Leading scorer and rebounder Markis McDuffie (11.8 points and 5.7 rebounds per game) is a sophomore. Shamet leads them in assists (11.1 points and 3.3 assists per game) and he is a freshman. Frankamp, center Shaquille Morris and third-leading scorer Darral Willis Jr. are all juniors. And everyone on this team with previous NCAA Tournament experience was a role player to the starring roles of previous WSU icons Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker.
How this cast of younger players performs on the biggest of stages is the most significant question of the tournament. If they handle the pressure successfully, this young team could easily be playing and winning during the second weekend of March Madness.