Wichita States has played good, sometimes great, defense so far this season. On Wednesday against Tulsa, the Shockers will try to maintain that identity, perhaps without their leading shot-blocker.
Center Ehimen Orukpe sprained his right ankle late in last week’s win over Iowa. He advanced from crutches to a walking boot this week and, judging from his limp and missed practices, is unlikely to play. Coach Gregg Marshall, relieved the injury isn’t more serious, wants to see how Orukpe feels before the game. Orukpe is coming off his best game as a Shocker — five blocks, eight rebounds and four points against the Hawkeyes in the Cancun Challenge.
“No fracture. No swelling, really,” Marshall said. “It’s up to him.”
Even without Orukpe, the Shockers (6-0) are capable of playing tough defense. He played 12 minutes against DePaul last week and didn’t block a shot. WSU still held DePaul to 30.6-percent shooting (15 of 46). The biggest problem for WSU’s defense in Mexico came at the foul line, where Iowa and DePaul combined to outscore the Shockers by 21 points. WSU fouled 57 times in the two games. While Marshall attributes some of those fouls to referees who called the game more tightly than Missouri Valley Conference refs, he is addressing the issue in practice. Flukey or not, the Shockers can’t continue to let teams outscore them at the line.
“After watching it on film, it’s a bunch of silly, stupid fouls,” Shocker guard Fred VanVleet said. “A lot of stuff you can get away with in high school or junior college, you’re not getting away with here.”
Marshall doesn’t want to change his team’s defensive intensity. The Shockers held Iowa and DePaul to 27 baskets in two games. Iowa scored a mere four inside the three-point line. WSU also blocked 14 shots and recorded 18 steals in the two games. A little foul trouble is acceptable with that suffocating effort.
“In order to get that, you have to be pretty aggressive,” he said. “You have to be tough. You have to try to block some shots.”
It is not unusual for newcomers to struggle with fouls as they adjust to the college game. Most of the unnecessary fouls are reaching fouls. VanVleet notices hand-checking is called more in college, while pushing under the basket is often ignored. Sophomore forward Jake White learned that his feet must be set when screening in college. The important thing is to adjust to how referees are calling the game and avoid bad fouls.
“When we’re aggressive, that’s when we’re fouling the most,” junior forward Cleanthony Early said. “But, when we continue to work as we’re working, we can be that aggressive and not foul as much.”
Tulsa (4-2) is coming off a miserable offensive performance in a 57-41 loss at home to 4-0 Stephen F. Austin on Saturday. The Golden Hurrican shot 31 percent (13 of 42) from the field and committed 18 turnovers. First-season coach Danny Manning, the former Kansas assistant coach, is rebuilding the program and starts three freshmen. Guard James Woodard, from Edmond (Okla.) averages 17.2 points and is making 41.7 percent of his threes.
Jayhawk fans will recognize Tulsa’s offensive sets and fondness for ball screens.
“He’s running KU stuff, which is a good decision,” Marshall said.