If you need any more proof that Wichita State is going to need a healthy Fred Van Vleet this season, you need only look at the final 90 seconds of the first half against Tulsa.
The senior guard made three 3-pointers to pull Wichita State from an 8-point deficit to a 1-point lead to end the half. That normally is the spark that makes the Shockers go: they would get the little run against an opponent and totally disrupt anything that the other team was trying to accomplish.
And when Wichita State extended that lead to five to begin the second half, it certainly seemed just like old times. Only it wasn't to be for the Shockers.
Wichita State couldn't maintain the momentum and ultimately fell on the road to Tulsa, 77-67.
There is no doubt that Gregg Marshall will have much to work on with his team. Everyone but his core group of seniors who have been with him looked out of sorts while in hostile territory.
Even Anton Grady wasn't himself. Consider that Grady was 7-for-29 from 3-point range coming into this season. That includes parts of four seasons, and it was definitely never expected of the big man during his time at Cleveland State.
Already this year, Grady has taken four shots from behind the arc, three in this game. That is not what a player who is confident in his teammates does while on the floor. That is what someone who doesn't know what else to do to keep his team in the game does. And Grady isn't playing in his second game ever at the college level.
This game just showed how Wichita State can be exploited. There is still a lot to work on with the team outside of the starting five, and maybe including some of them; Rashard Kelly is certainly worthy to be out there to begin the game, but he is still in an adjustment phase.
The bench scored just eight points Tuesday night. As a team, Wichita State didn't shoot well, but the bench made it seem even worse, going 1-for-9 from the floor. They committed 15 of the 25 Shocker fouls. They just couldn't compete with Shaquille Harrison (20 points, 5 rebounds) and the Golden Hurricane.
With 9:18 remaining in the game, Pat Birt had a wide-open look from 3-point range for Tulsa. It was the type of shot that other Wichita State teams would have let him take and learned that they missed the switch. Only this isn't other Wichita State teams.
Landry Shamet, who got beat on the play, jumped widely at Birt and fouled him unnecessarily. Birt would sink the free throw and complete the 4-point play to put Tulsa up by six. It was just another step on the way to building the lead to as many as 12.
For reference, Wichita State only trailed by more than 11 points last season. Both of those games -- at Northern Iowa, and against Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament -- ended in a double-digit loss for the Shockers. They couldn't find a way to come back when down that many, no matter how badly Ron Baker and his 23 points tried.
And so it was the case tonight. A hobbled Van Vleet forced the bench to play more minutes than normal (and the score likely forced Van Vleet into more time on the floor that he would have prudently seen had the Shockers taken control). And even that extra time that he played was less than effective. He saw situations that normally he could have taken advantage of, but a bad hamstring and ankle certainly kept him from doing so, like when he didn't take D'Andre Wright off the dribble with six minutes remaining and the score certainly within reach.
This isn't the real Wichita State right now, and maybe that is some solace for Marshall, the team, and fans of the Shockers. This is a team still looking to establish its new identity and learn to win with this new rotation, and they are not even at full health.
At the end of the season, this will certainly look like one that got away from Wichita State. Tulsa is certainly a team that they could arguably beat were they playing at peak Wichita. They just aren't there yet.
The Shockers have a long bus ride back home to think about it. At this point, you certainly don't want to be Emporia State come Saturday. This Wichita State team has some anger to work out.