ST. LOUIS — Somebody asked what I thought about Wichita State’s first-half performance against Indiana State on Friday afternoon. I think they expected me to get all giddy.
But I shrugged my shoulders because it was the kind of performance we have come to expect from the Shockers, who are playing at such a high level that it’s hard to know if there’s a ceiling.
Indiana State’s enthusiasm for its quarterfinal game in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament lasted until just after the national anthem. Then Wichita State went all Wichita State, zooming to a 20-3 lead and zapping the opening game of its suspense.
The Shockers cooled their engines in the second half but still won 72-48.
Praise is being heaped on WSU hot and heavy throughout America and Friday’s performance won’t change that.
Indiana State coach Greg Lansing sounded like he had just been on a great first date when he talked about the Shockers.
“They’re as good as anybody we’ve played,’’ Lansing said. “…They’re tough. They’re deep. They’re athletic. They come at you in waves.’’
Even if they read Lansing’s gushing praise, the Shockers won’t take it to heart. Because that’s not what an experienced, confident team does.
There’s a nose-to-the-grindstone attitude about the Shockers. They are on a mission, a mission whose parameters haven’t even been clearly defined. The Shockers don’t put limits on themselves.
“We’re confident but we put in the work,’’ senior guard Joe Ragland said. “You’ve got to be confident, but we’re never complacent. We’re never happy with what we’ve done and that’s one of the great things about this team.’’
There are no perceptible egos. None of these guys walks around with a big head or a puffy chest.
“I love it when my teams play with this kind of confidence but I don’t want it to be cocky,’’ WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “I don’t want it to be demeaning or disrespectful or unsporting-like. But I love it when they have a swagger about them because any athlete that plays at a high level talks about when they get in that zone and they feel like that next shot is going in.’’
For most of Friday’s first half, the Shockers could do no wrong. Their defensive pressure would have had some teams looking for a white flag. They got almost every rebound and loose ball. And when they were patient and worked for the best shot, they made the shot.
One of the iconic coaches in college basketball history, Denny Crum, saw the Shockers for the first time Friday after being one of six inductees into the Missouri Valley Conference Hall of Fame.
The coach who guided Louisville to two national championships and 675 wins during 31 seasons was just as impressed as everyone else with the Shockers’ first-half dominance.
“I think they’d make a great representative for the Valley,’’ the 75-year-old Crum, who retired in 2001, said from his courtside seat. “I’ll tell you, they not only hit on a good percentage of their shots, they took good shots. They really didn’t give anything. Indiana State was just at a loss for answering. They couldn’t get any good shots and when they did, they didn’t make them. That’s an excellent Wichita State team.’’
Now that’s praise sure to force the Shocker faithful, many of whom are here, fan themselves.
But it won’t raise the pulse of the players, who are as finely tuned as one of those really finely-tuned foreign cars we all wish we could take for a spin.
Nothing really sticks out in Friday’s box score for Wichita State, yet it all does. It’s one of those teams that is usually better collectively than individually.
Toure Murry and Ragland each had 14 points and combined for nine assists.
Big man Garrett Stutz scored only points, but had 12 rebounds. The 7-foot Stutz averaged only 3.5 rebounds during his first three seasons at WSU. Other 7-footers were meeting to decide whether to kick him out of their club.
But this has been a different season for Stutz, whose game has risen to an unforeseen level. He’s not alone on this team; the Shockers have been playing at or near their potential for a long time. And when it comes right down to it, isn’t that the ultimate goal for every team and player?
“We’ve got veteran players who are playing at a high level,’’ Marshall said. “We’ve played a lot of basketball. They’re supremely confident. And supremely talented.’’