Early and the No. 25 Shockers gear up for another MVC run
This preview and more on Wichita State and the Missouri Valley Conference are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.
No. 25 Wichita State Facts & Figures
Last season: 30-9 (12-6 Missouri Valley)
Postseason: NCAA Final Four
Coach: Gregg Marshall (139-70 at Wichita State)
Missouri Valley projection: First
Postseason projection: NCAA Round of 32
That should be enough to get them back in the NCAA Tournament. There, they will take their chances with another tough team loaded with experience and confidence. The Shockers are 9–2 in the postseason with an NIT title and two NCAA appearances the past three seasons. They know how to win against good teams.
“This team has to make some new footprints,” sophomore guard Fred VanVleet says. “It’s nice to look back (on the Final Four), but we lost key guys from that group and it’s time to reload and go right back to war with a new group of guys.”
A year ago, few people outside Wichita knew about forward Cleanthony Early. During summer workouts, Marshall said that Early had miles to go to understand defense and the need to play hard all the time. Early, then a junior transfer from a Division III junior college, figured it out quickly, especially on offense. In the Final Four, he caught the nation’s attention with 24 points and 10 rebounds against Louisville. He went to the Kevin Durant Nike Skills Academy over the summer, and NBA scouts will stalk WSU games this season. He worked on ball-handling and defense in the offseason.
The rest of the frontcourt is inexperienced. Carl Hall, the team’s best post scorer, and Ehimen Orukpe, a shot-blocker, are gone. Kadeem Coleby is a transfer from Louisana-Lafayette, where he averaged 9.5 points and 4.9 rebounds. Forward Darius Carter earned NJCAA All-American honors at Vincennes (Ind.) University after averaging 15.8 points and 8.3 rebounds. Freshman Shaq Morris is a skilled post player. Senior Chadrack played in 30 games last season.
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VanVleet takes over for Malcolm Armstead as the on-court leader. As a freshman, he enjoyed the luxury of learning from seniors Armstead and Demetric Williams. As a sophomore, VanVleet takes on greater responsibilities.
He’ll get plenty of help from the wings. There are not many years of experience in this group, but there is plenty of quality time played big games. Junior Tekele Cotton is a defensive stopper who turned himself into a good outside shooter. Sophomore Ron Baker missed most of the regular season with a stress fracture in his left foot but returned for the postseason and started all five NCAA Tournament games.
“The majority of us are young, but at the same we’ve got a lot of minutes under our belt,” Baker says. “I feel pretty confident in our team. We’re just going to have to get our chemistry right so that we can be successful.”
Sophomore Evan Wessel started eight games before a broken finger ended his season. He made 11-of-24 3-pointers and is one of WSU’s best defenders. Senior Nick Wiggins (41.9 percent from three last year) is an excellent shooter off the bench. He is the brother of Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins, the nation’s top newcomer.
The Shockers grabbed forward Darius Carter during their Final Four run, and he is expected to help up front. He is an outstanding athlete with good offensive skills. Center Kadeem Coleby, who practiced with the team last season, is a shot-blocker and rebounder who can score around the rim. Center Shaq Morris knows he needs to get in better shape, but he is a prized recruit. It’s not often WSU gets a physically developed big man with four seasons to develop.
Factoid: 30. Wichita State set a school record for wins with its 30–9 record and has averaged 27.8 wins the past four seasons. Four straight seasons with 20-plus victories are a first for the program.
The Shockers defeated Pittsburgh, Gonzaga, La Salle and Ohio State last season on the way to Atlanta. They didn’t win the MVC, going 12–6 and losing twice to Evansville. That’s both a credit to the Valley and a reminder to the Shockers that they can’t cruise into another memorable March.
With Creighton’s departure for the Big East, Wichita State is the MVC’s clear favorite. A challenging non-conference schedule includes games against Alabama, Saint Louis, Tennessee and Davidson. The potential issues are interior scoring and depth behind VanVleet. Early should develop into a star who can carry WSU with his scoring, and VanVleet, Baker and Cotton are youngsters who play with great composure. Don’t underestimate the return of Wessel, who will add another good shooter and a smart player who knows how to run the offense.
The Shockers’ talent and depth should send them into March with 20 wins and a chance for more. As long as Marshall is the coach, that will be the expectation for Shocker fans every season.
*Photo courtesty of Jeff Tuttle, Wichita State
2013-14 Preseason Top 25
25. Wichita State