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Bob Lutz: How high can Shocker basketball fly? Let your imagination run wild

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Bob Lutz
November 09, 2017 - 3:41 pm
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It feels like we’ve been waiting for Wichita State’s 2017-18 college basketball season to begin since the second the last one ended.

That was, by the way, in a 65-62 loss to Kentucky in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in Indianapolis on March 19. An eternity has passed since.

The Shockers are in the American Athletic Conference now. They begin the season Friday night at Koch Arena against UMKC with a slew of returning players from a 31-5 team, a high (No. 7) preseason national ranking and expectations that are through the roof.

Expectations, though, that do not intimidate the Shockers, who have always risen to the occasion under Gregg Marshall. Expectations? Bring them on. Wichita State thrives on expectations.

Gone are the days of playing Drake and Bradley, two long-time Missouri Valley Conference foes that simply could not keep up with Wichita State once the Shockers worked up some speed.

WSU has an elite program now, one that is being mentioned in the same conversations with Duke, North Carolina, Kansas and all of the other major college basketball brands.

Marshall is being touted as a potential national coach of the year. Sophomore guard Landry Shamet is being mentioned on some of the elite preseason lists that whet appetites. And there are six seniors who want to leave a special mark on the program they’ve helped build.

It’s all there, folks. And everybody knows it. Now it’s time to see what the Shockers do.

Finally.

These are the Wichita State story lines I’m most interested in following this season:

1 – The health of Markis McDuffie. The Shockers’ junior forward isn’t supposed to return from a broken foot until sometime in December. On a team with talent and aptitude, McDuffie is a guy with All-American stuff if he can figure out how to get it packaged. He can shoot, run, rebound and defend. And when he does it all with more consistency, watch out.

2 – Wichita State’s backcourt. It looks too good to be true, especially if Shamet is all the way back from his own foot injury, the second of his WSU career. Shamet and senior Conner Frankamp grew into an outstanding guard tandem last season with Austin Reaves capable of filling in nicely. Now junior college transfer Samajae Haynes-Jones has been added to the mix. And sophomore C.J. Keyser can play in the backcourt. The skill sets of these guys are diverse and complementary. It’s a dangerous group.

3 – The AAC. Has a nice ring to it, huh? There might be a moment or two when Shocker fans think fondly back to the Missouri Valley, but the sheer excitement of a new conference, with new challenges, is such a welcome change. The Shockers can renew old rivalries with Cincinnati and Memphis and build upon their age-old skirmishes with Tulsa. Plus, UConn, Temple, SMU, Houston? How cool is that? It’s going to be fun to acclimate to the AAC and learn about its players and coaches. And to see the Shockers in different venues. There would be wild anticipation of this season no matter what conference Wichita State plays in. That the Shocks are in the AAC only lifts the level of excitement.

4 – Seniors, senior, seniors. They’re everywhere. Frankamp, Shaq Morris, Rashard Kelly, Zach Brown, Darral Willis, Rauno Nurger. All of these guys are going to play significant minutes and make significant contributions. Marshall has almost always had deep teams of players who rarely crack 30 minutes in a game. This looks to be one of the deepest. So don’t expect anyone to average 20 points per game, but expect a lot of guys to average from eight to 14.

5 – One of the reasons Wichita State went looking for, and ultimately finding, a new conference was because of lower-than-expected seedings in the NCAA Tournament. The Shockers have often had gaudy records, but it hasn’t often resulted in a respectful seed for March Madness. That should change now. And Wichita State won’t necessarily have to win a postseason tournament to get into the big dance. Some pressure is off.

So what should we expect from Wichita State in 2017-18?

A lot, honestly. A whole lot.

This is a loaded team with a great coach, a fervent fan base and a college basketball season that seems ripe for plenty of March surprise.

The AAC is a significantly better basketball conference than the Missouri Valley, so there will be challenges. The Shockers were a monster road team in the Valley. Whether that continues in the American is one of the mysteries of the season.

It’s great to have some mystery. Especially with a Wichita State team that seems more than capable of getting to the bottom of things.

Prediction? Why not.

Wichita State goes 29-4 in the regular season and AAC Tournament, wins three games in the NCAA Tournament and loses in the Elite Eight.

Or maybe the Shockers do ever better. That wouldn’t surprise me, or anyone.​

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