The third team from the Missouri Valley on the Non-BCS Watch List is looking to contend for a conference title while replacing a number of key members from last season’s NIT Championship squad.
Wichita State Shockers
At various points last season, the Shockers stood at 13-2 and 20-4, but they dropped three of their final six regular season games and lost to Indiana State in the semis of the MVC Tournament. That left them on the outside looking in of the Big Dance, but the Shockers shook off that disappointment to win five straight games in the NIT and finish 29-8 overall.
Wichita State finished 26th in the final Pomeroy Ratings, the highest mark for any team not to make the NCAA Tournament. Their offensive and defensive efficiency numbers both ranked inside the Top 40 after having steadily risen during Coach Gregg Marshall’s four-year tenure. On offense, their strengths were a 10th-rated effective field goal percentage and an offensive rebound percentage just outside the Top 50, while their free throw rate has some room to improve. Defensively, the Shockers ranked third nationally in limiting opponents’ offensive boards and did a great job of holding down their shooting percentages, but they finished outside the Top 250 in turnover percentage.
The Shockers lost four key contributors from last year’s squad, including three of their top four rebounders. J.T. Durley was the team’s lone double-digit scorer, and frontcourt mate Gabe Blair led the team in blocks and shot 54.2 percent from the field, while Graham Hatch hit nearly 45 percent from beyond the arc.
As you might expect from the above, most of the key returnees are guards, led by six-foot-five senior Toure’ Murry. He finished second on the team in scoring with 9.4 points per game and paced them in assists (3.4 apg) and steals (1.2 spg). Murry also chipped in with 4.5 boards, which makes him the team’s top returnee in that category as well. He’s never posted overly impressive shooting numbers over the course of his career, but he does a nice job of drawing fouls and getting to the line. His assist rate and steal percentages are both well above average, but a high turnover rate inflated his usage rate while driving down his overall efficiency. Still, Murry will be a steadying influence at the point, and his versatility may well earn him a spot on the All-Conference Team. He may even win his third straight Defensive Player of the Year Award as well.
David Kyles finished just behind Murry with 9.3 points per game last season. More than 67 percent of his shots came from three-point range, which isn’t a bad thing for someone who hit nearly 40 percent of his triples. Thanks to his solid shooting and low turnover rate, he posted an impressive overall offensive rating. Look for a slight increase in playing time and production for Wichita State’s senior sharpshooter.
The other two returning guards are Joe Ragland and Demetric Williams. Ragland finished second on the team in assists and chipped in 7.0 points per game. His assist rate was actually better than Murry’s, and he hit 57.1 percent from two-point range. Williams has tremendous quickness and scored 4.2 points in just 13.6 minutes last season. If he can reduce his inflated turnover rate, Williams should see a pronounced increase in his playing time.
Seven-footer Garrett Stutz played just 14.7 minutes per game as a junior, but he made the most of it by posting 7.2 points and 3.5 rebounds. He was particularly effective on the defensive glass and even posted a decent assist rate for a post player. Fouls were a big part of his game last year, both in terms of drawing them (5.5 per 40 minutes) and committing them (5.6 per 40 minutes). The former led to a strong free throw rate, and his block percentage proves his worth on the defensive end as well. It will be critical for Stutz to stay out of foul trouble if the Shockers are to challenge for the conference championship.
Reigning Sixth Man of the Year Ben Smith is also back at forward. The six-foot-five senior posted the 11th-best offensive rating in the nation last season and averaged 6.7 points in 16.5 minutes. He shot 64.4 percent from two-point range and 38.6 from beyond the arc, which led to effective field goal and true shooting percentages both in the 60s. Nearly 60 percent of Smith’s rebounds came on the offensive glass, and he did a terrific job taking care of the basketball. In short, he’s just the kind of guy Marshall wants to build around with a number of new faces on the roster.
The other notable frontcourt returnee is seven-foot center Ehimen Orukpe who played sparingly last year. He’s earned positive reviews in the offseason and has a prime opportunity to become a key member of the rotation thanks to his rebounding and shot-blocking ability.
Wichita State welcomes a number of new faces to program this season, and Marshall tried to use the team’s summer trip to Brazil to get the newcomers some experience. First-team Juco All-American Carl Hall is the new player expected to make the most impact this sesaon. The 6-foot-8 forward will provide great toughness and rebounding and should start right away.
Joining Hall up front will be true freshmen Jake White and Ede Egharevba as well as juco transfer James Anacreon. White has been lauded for his fundamentals and showed the versatility to score inside or out in high school while averaging a double-double in each of his final two seasons. Egharevba needs to add weight but provides additional athleticism in the frontcourt. Anacreon signed late but should be a key member of the rotation.
A pair of newcomers add to the mix in the backcourt. Tekele Cotton is described as a streaky shooter, but he uses his strength off the dribble to get to the rim and convert. He’s in a great situation to learn from some of the other veteran guards on the roster, which will serve him well in the years to come. Scouting reports describe Evan Wessel as a combo guard with solid passing ability. Like Cotton, he should be able to ease himself into the mix, although he’s the less likely of the two to log significant minutes.
The Shockers won just 11 games in Marshall’s first season at the helm in 2007-08, and the fact that last year’s failure to make the NCAA Tournament was a disappointment tells you how far they have come. Due to the loss of a few significant contributors from last year’s squad, expectations aren’t quite as high, but most preseason publications still have them among the top three teams in the MVC.
Like many other mid-majors, scheduling is a challenge for Wichita State, but they do have a few tough non-conference foes on the schedule. The team is participating in the Puerto Rico Tipoff, where they open with Colorado before facing either Alabama or Maryland in round two. They also face some other strong non-BCS teams, with home games against UNLV and Utah State and a road trip to Tulsa.
There’s a lot to like about the returning guards, as well as the potential of Stutz inside and the instant offense of Ben Smith off the bench (assuming Marshall leaves him in the same role). Hall seems like a pretty safe bet to contribute immediately, but outside of that there are question marks, particularly inside. Marshall needs some combination of Orukpe, White, and Anacreon to become reliable members of the rotation if the Shockers want to challenge Creighton for the MVC crown and/or make their way into the at-large conversation.