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Bob Lutz: Everybody has nice things to say about the Shockers

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Bob Lutz
November 02, 2017 - 3:38 pm
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Seth Davis, college basketball expert, had some nice things to say about the Wichita State basketball team in his preview for “The Athletic,” recently.

Everybody has nice things to say about the Shockers.

But Davis also wrote that this Wichita State team consistently achieves at a high level despite a lack of star players. Which, I suppose, is a compliment.

It’s also a falsehood.

Surely Davis has seen WSU redshirt-sophomore guard Landry Shamet play. I would expect that Davis has a working knowledge of Shocker junior Markis McDuffie. While Shaq Morris and Conner Frankamp aren’t “stars,” they have the ability to shine.

So this notion that Wichita State Gregg Marshall gathers a bunch of rather ordinary players every season and instills in them an ability to vastly overachieve may have a shred of truth, but is mostly nonsense.

Marshall most assuredly makes players better. That’s one of his greatest talents as a coach. But he’s not exactly working with clay models here.

Shamet, returning soon from a foot injury, is one of the best guards in the country, hands down. McDuffie, out until at least December with a broken foot, has fulfilled only a fraction of his promise.

Marshall, of course, is a star and has been for some time. What he’s built at Wichita State is beyond any Shocker fan’s wildest dream or expectation. This is a basketball program that is consistently now among the best 25 in the country and that finally busted out of the Missouri Valley Conference after more than 70 years for the greener pasture of the American Athletic Conference.

That, combined with 10 returning players from a 31-5 team that nearly knocked out Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament, likely makes this the most-anticipated season in Shocker basketball history. And it begins with a couple of exhibition games Saturday and Monday before the regular-season opener against UMKC on Nov. 10 at Koch Arena.

The Shockers have also added to their rich mix, bringing in guard Samajae Haynes-Jones from Hutchinson Community College, last season’s national junior college champion. There are other newcomers in the mix, including 7-footer Asbjorn Midtgaard and freshman forward Rod Brown. Their day will come.

The Shockers’ day is here. There are six highly-motivated seniors who would like nothing more than to exit on one of the highest notes in the program’s history.

What, exactly, is doable?

There are no limits. Wichita State is ranked No. 7 in the Associated Press preseason poll and to some, that seemed a little low. With all of this experience and this coach and this new conference and a rabid fan base, no expectation is too lofty.

The Shockers have the goods to take on expectations and not get bogged down by them. They won’t have to slog through two months of uninspired Missouri Valley Conference play now, knowing before they stop on the floor that their superiority is unquestioned.

Wichita State will be playing in a power confidence, whether it officially carries that mantra or not. The American includes Cincinnati, Memphis and Tulsa – former MVC adversaries – as well as UConn, Houston, SMU and Temple, all of whose blood is some shade of blue.

Shamet and Frankamp should form one of the best guard tandems in the country. Throw Haynes-Jones and sophomore Austin Reaves into the mix, and you have quantity to go with the quality.

Senior forwards Zach Brown and Rashard Kelly are solid bricks in the foundation and center Shaq Morris has overcome the inconsistencies in immaturity of youth to become a Shocker force.

Darral Willis, with a year in the program after transferring from junior college, could be on the verge of something big and senior Rauno Nurger is a quality piece to the frontcourt.

And don’t sleep on sophomore swingman C.J. Keyser, who just might be Wichita State’s breakthrough player in 2017-18.

Because of this team’s personnel and depth, it’s difficult to find even a potential soft spot or concern. Most of these players are so experienced and proven that we know what we’re going to get. It’s not like any of them are going to take steps back.

So, I suppose the only thing that potentially could get in the way of a special season is the assertion by Davis that the Shockers are as good as they are without having “star” players.

Again, though, name four guards in the country you’d rather have than Shamet. Is there a better pure shooter in America than Frankamp? Who has McDuffie’s upside? Who plays harder than Kelly? How do you stop Morris when he doesn’t want to be stopped?

No stars?

I get it that Marshall’s system rarely produces them, at least not in a conventional way. Nobody on the Shockers averages 20 points per game. Heck, only a handful of players have averaged 15 in Marshall’s 10 years as coach.

Wichita State, though, produces defensive stars. Team stars who understand the concept of playing together and not getting bogged down in their individual numbers because they know other numbers tell the bigger story.

In that way, the Shockers are star-studded. They should be headed for an incredible season. But only the stars know for sure.​


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