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College Basketball 2014-15: Wichita State Shockers Team Preview

Fred VanVleet

Fred VanVleet

College basketball season is creeping up fast, and Athlon Sports is counting down to Midnight Madness and the start of practice on Oct. 17. 

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No. 7 Wichita State keeps making history. The Shockers are two years removed from a Final Four, a feat that was arguably topped a year later when Wichita State won its first 35 games before losing to eventual national runner-up Kentucky in the round of 32. Reaching those either of those marks again is too much to ask, but the Shockers have plenty of firepower returning to remain on the national scene one way or another.

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Wichita State dominated the Missouri Valley Conference in historic ways last season. Nine schools will try to change that story this season. It won’t be easy. The Shockers, even without NBA Draft pick Cleanthony Early, show no signs of significant weakening.

“That’s like a high major program over there,” Indiana State coach Greg Lansing says. “They literally could have won the national championship last year. The rest of us have to raise our level.”

Last season, WSU rolled to an 18–0 league record but largely disappeared from the national view in January and February because nobody regarded an MVC school as a serious challenger. It would help WSU’s strength of schedule and national respect if that changed.

“Wichita State has set a bar,” Loyola coach Porter Moser says. “Everybody is chasing that extremely hard. The level of recruiting has really been amped up.”

Meanwhile, the Shockers wait and get better.

The past four seasons rank with the best in Shocker history — 2011 NIT champions, 2012 MVC champions, Final Four in 2013 and 35 straight wins in 2014. That is a lot to live up to for WSU and a lot to catch up on for the rest of the Valley.

No. 7 Wichita State Shockers Facts & Figures

Last season: 35-1, 18-0 MVC

Postseason: NCAA round of 32

Consecutive NCAAs: 3

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Coach: Gregg Marshall (174-71 at Wichita State, 84-42 MVC)

Missouri Valley Projection: First

Postseason Projection: NCAA Elite Eight

Frontcourt

Marshall relies on transfer big men, and this season is no different. Darius Carter, a senior, will step into a larger role in his second season at WSU. Like most junior college transfers, he progressed throughout the season and scored efficiently when he focused on decisive moves to the basket. If he can add more range to his jumper, he can easily be a double-digit scorer.

Transfers Tevin Glass (6’8”) and Bush Wamukota (7’0”) need to supply immediate help. Glass is an energetic power forward who should be able to score on rebounds and breaks without needing to dominate the ball. Wamukota’s primary value will come on defense.

Marshall has two freshmen centers to work with, both with legitimate size and skills. Shaq Morris (6’8”) redshirted last season. He is skilled offensively but must overcome nagging injuries and adjust to the competition. Rauno Nurger (6’10”) signed with Ole Miss but was released from his scholarship after an assistant coach left the school.

Junior Evan Wessel must regain confidence in his shooting touch. His toughness and hustle make him valuable, but 3-of-25 shooting from 3-point range isn’t good enough.

Backcourt

WSU’s big men are ahead on the learning curve because of the guards. Ron Baker, Fred VanVleet and senior swingman Tekele Cotton will get them in the right places and get them the ball at the right time. That trio is as solid and unselfish as any group in the nation and will nurture the newcomers.

Baker is a good shooter (38 percent from 3-point range) with a point guard’s passing ability in the body of a 2 guard. VanVleet is the team leader, so respected that coaches and players listen to and follow his advice. He runs WSU’s pick-and-roll plays with precision.  Cotton earned MVC Defensive Player of the Year honors and is an underrated scorer who can’t be left open behind the arc.

WSU survived last season without a backup for VanVleet at the point. Redshirt freshman Ria’n Holland spent the year adding weight and strength. He will play both guard positions. Freshman Corey Henderson Jr. spent the summer learning from VanVleet.

Final Analysis

The Shockers will miss Early, who played his best on the road and gave the team an athlete who could match up with the NCAA’s top teams. His ability to spread the floor with his outside shooting cleared space for the guards and big men to operate.

Once again, however, WSU will enjoy an advantage in depth and athletic ability over its MVC rivals. Its non-conference schedule includes Memphis, Alabama, Seton Hall, Tulsa and Saint Louis, so it should be able to compile a solid power ranking. WSU’s goal is to schedule so that it does not depend on the strength of the MVC, and its recent success has helped attract home-and-home series with high-profile opponents and top neutral-site tournaments.

Winning the MVC won’t be enough. The Shockers will expect to grab another good seed in the NCAA Tournament and win more games. The guards are ready, and it will be their job to prepare the newcomers for March.

Newcomers

Tevin Glass and Bush Wamukota are expected to rebound and defend and adjust quickly from junior college. Shaq Morris is an intriguing talent who can shine if he learns how to play hard consistently. Corey Henderson Jr. can give WSU the backup point guard it lacked last season. Guard Ria’n Holland, who redshirted last season with Morris, is an excellent shooter. Rashard Kelly and Zach Brown can help on the wing, and both are more mature than most freshmen after a year at prep school. WSU picked up Rauno Nurger in the summer, and coaches were thrilled to get a skilled big man with four years to develop.

Photo courtesty of Wichita State