Wichita State exits the Missouri Valley Conference on top and enters the American Athletic Conference in roughly the same spot. It is a great match for the Shockers, who spent 72 years as an MVC member watching other schools upgrade conference affiliation. Almost 20 years of investing in basketball and the work of coach Gregg Marshall paid off in April when Wichita State accepted the American’s invitation to become the conference’s 12th basketball member.
The Shockers get a home worthy of their basketball program after dominating the MVC the past four seasons. The American adds a national power with the top eight scorers returning from a team that took Kentucky to the final seconds in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
It is perfect timing for both parties. The American needs more teams in the NCAA Tournament. The Shockers need better competition to convince the selection committee to seed them properly.
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Gregg Marshall
2016-17 RECORD (AAC): 31–5 (17–1)
2016-17 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to Kentucky 65–62 in the second round
G Daishon Smith (4.8 ppg, 2.2 rpg)
Wichita State is prepared with both the size and experience to handle the upgrade in big men it will see in its new league. Center Shaq Morris is no longer a foul-prone question mark. He scored in double figures in 13 of WSU’s final 17 games and held up well against first-round draft pick Bam Adebayo of Kentucky. For the season, he averaged 9.6 points and 5.1 rebounds in only 18.0 minutes of action.
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Forward Markis McDuffie finished second in the MVC Player of the Year voting after leading the Shockers in scoring (11.5 ppg) and rebounding (5.7 rpg). He is a long and athletic defender who shot 35.5 percent from 3-point range and 81.9 percent from the foul line, although he needs work on his ball-handling and shot creation.
Zach Brown and Rashard Kelly provide leadership, hustle and hard work. Both are strong defenders and are experts at executing WSU’s plays. Senior centers Darral Willis and Rauno Nurger can play with Morris or relieve him. Willis is an unorthodox lefty who excelled in non-conference play before his minutes dropped in the MVC.
Landry Shamet grabbed the point guard duties in January and developed into a star. He ran Wichita State’s offense efficiently (3.0 assist-to-turnover ratio), made 43.9 percent of his 3-pointers and defended with toughness. Shamet underwent surgery to repair a stress fracture in his foot in late July but is expected to be ready for the opener in November.
When Shamet took over the point in mid-January, Conner Frankamp settled in at shooting guard, and the move set the Shockers up for a dominant run. Frankamp, the former Kansas Jayhawk, made 44.0 percent of his 3-pointers and is also capable of running the offense.
Guard depth is a question. Sophomore Austin Reaves may need more time to adjust to the physical play in the American. His playing time dipped in MVC games, and rehab from shoulder surgery will limit his efforts to get stronger. Sophomore C.J. Keyser is a good athlete who played in 25 games and profiles as a defensive stopper.
Junior college transfer Samajae Haynes-Jones needs to adjust quickly to help on the perimeter.
With six seniors joining two stars in Shamet and McDuffie, the Shockers will enter the season highly ranked. As long as Shamet is running things, the Shockers will execute one of the nation’s top offenses. The American will challenge WSU with more talent and travel. The Shockers and their fans can’t wait. They see joining the AAC as a life-changing event for the school.