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Wichita State basketball revels in its road challenges

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012, at 5:16 p.m.
  • Updated Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012, at 8:15 a.m.

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PWichita StateHtYrPtsReb

Cleanthony Early6-8Jr.13.96.6
CCarl Hall6-8Sr.14.08.8
GEvan Wessel6-5So.7.02.0
GRon Baker6-3Fr.9.82.8
GMalcolm Armstead6-0Sr.3.8x-3.7

Wichita State (7-0): C Ehimen Orukpe remains slowed by a sprained right ankle and may not play. Air Force’s style of play would likely limit his minutes, because the Falcons would try to pull him away from the basket and make him guard outside shooters. . . WSU is holding teams to 36.6-percent shooting, best in the Missouri Valley Conference. It also leads the MVC in rebound margin (plus-7.3), which could be key against Air Force. Colorado out-rebounded the Falcons 46-19, grabbing 15 offensive rebounds, in an 89-74 win on Nov. 25 in Boulder.… WSU also leads the MVC in blocks at 5.3 a game.… The Shockers are 2-1 in the MVC-MWC Challenge Series, losing to San Diego State (2010) and defeating TCU (2009) and UNLV (2011). This is the fourth and final season of the series contract, although the conferences are considering a resumption after the 2013-14 season. While the MVC appears to be fully in favor of the relationship, some in the Mountain West may prefer other options. “I think we’ve got to be a league, with all this realignment, trying to get a challenge that’s out west – whether it’s Big 12 or Pac-12, the Big West or something like that,” New Mexico coach Steve Alford told the Albuquerque Journal. “The Missouri Valley is in the Midwest, and there isn’t a whole lot we’re doing as a league in the Midwest. Something out west, I think, would be maybe a little more beneficial.”

PAir ForceHtYrPtsReb
FMike Fitzgerald6-6Sr.6.04.0
C Taylor Broekhuis6-10Sr.11.34.7
G Todd Fletcher6-2Sr.12.0x-4.4
GMichael Lyons6-5Sr.20.75.3
G Kyle Green6-2Sr.7.01.9


Air Force (6-1): Air Force is trying to go 7-1 for the third time in program history, matching the starts for the 2006 and 2007 teams.… Lyons is 18 of 43 (41.9 percent) from three-point range and posted a career-high 33 points in a win over The Citadel. He leads the Mountain West in scoring.… Fletcher is shooting 60.7 percent from behind the arc (17 of 28) and scored a career-high 20 points in Wednesday’s 76-47 win over Jackson State. His assist-to-turnover ratio of 7.75 (31 assists, four turnovers) ranks second nationally.… Coach Dave Pilipovich is in his first full season. He took over for Jeff Reynolds in February after Air Force fired Reynolds and went 2-6. Pilipovich spent five seasons as an assistant at the school.… The Falcons return four starters from last season’s team and were picked ninth in the nine-team Mountain West preseason poll, one spot behind Boise State.

Wichita State

at Air Force

When: 4 p.m. Sunday

Where: Clune Arena, Colorado Springs

Records: WSU 7-0, AFA 6-1

Radio: KNSS, 1330-AM

TV: Cox 22

— Playing on the road isn’t fun. Players get heckled. Basketball locker rooms are small and cold. The opposition plays with confidence.

While that may be true, playing on the road is more fun than most Wichita State practices, which are generally a no-blood, no-foul, no-whining zone. That helps explain WSU’s strong road record in recent seasons.

The Shockers, 7-0 for the first time since 2006-07 and on the verge of cracking the Associated Press Top 25, travel to Air Force (5-1) on Sunday in the Missouri Valley Conference-Mountain West Conference Challenge Series. Even with a roster makeover, they are off to a good start away from Koch Arena.

WSU won at Virginia Commonwealth in its first road game and went 2-0 on a neutral court in the Cancun Challenge. WSU went 10-2 on the road in 2010-11 and 10-1 last season. WSU freshman Fred VanVleet learned quickly that the Shockers don’t celebrate wildly after road wins.

“They take pride in it and give you a standard to live up to,” he said. “Wins are the road are expected.”

The Shockers won’t face many places with louder fans than VCU. They won’t face many teams with a more physical, disruptive defense. They prepared that way and enjoyed quieting the crowd with a composed performance in front of a crowd of 7,693.

WSU often plays that way on the road and its newcomers now know how that happens. Coaches don’t call fouls in scrimmages. Coaches yell. Teammates go after each other with no concern for bruised egos or bodies.

“The week preparing for VCU, practice was real and it was hard,” junior Cleanthony Early said. “You might get frustrated, but then you get in the game and you see that guy coming to trap you, and it’s not as aggressive as it was in practice, and you’re doing everything you need to do.… you’ve already faced the worst of the situation.”

VanVleet can handle two hours of madness in the Koch Arena practice gym by looking forward to 40 minutes of relief on the road.

“It almost makes the game easier,” he said. “When you go on the road, it’s just a different atmosphere. At the same time, every day in practice you face tough environments and adversity. They create a crazy environment every day in practice so that when we do go out on the road and play at a VCU, we’ll be just fine.”

Coach Gregg Marshall wants to make practices harder than games — home or away.

“Every day, we’re going to find a little bit of stress that they’ve got to play through or overcome,” he said.

Sunday’s stressors will come in the form of Air Force’s outside shooters. The Falcons are making 42 percent of their three-pointers (74 of 176) and its average of 10.6 a game ranks second nationally. Coach Dave Pilipovich fills the court with players who can shoot and pass and runs his version of the Princeton offense, with lots of cutting, moving and backdoor plays.

“You’ve got to be able to guard all different ways against them,” Marshall said. “After they play fast, they go to their Princeton stuff. It’s fast to slow.”

Air Force averages 82 points — against a schedule that includes two NCAA Division II opponents — and changing its reputation. It is running more, after makes and misses, than it did last season when it averaged 61.6 points and went 13-16.

“We want to attack the basket,” Pilipovich said. “If that means pushing the ball, then we do. If we have an open look six to eight seconds into the possession, we will take it because sometimes it is harder to manufacture a good shot later in the shot clock.”

Clune Arena will present WSU with a different atmosphere than most of its road games. The Falcons haven’t drawn more than 1,547 fans to their arena, which seats 5,858. Colorado Springs’ elevation of 6,305 feet above sea level may also be a factor. In the end, the Shockers want to treat their visit to the beautiful campus at the base of the Rocky Mountains like a routine trip to Peoria or Evansville.

“You get that adrenalin rush when you walk into somebody else’s (arena) and everybody’s booing you,” Early said. “It’s like, ‘Now it’s time to eat, or get eaten.’ ”

Check Paul Suellentrop’s Shocker blog at blogs.kansas.com/shockwaves. Reach him at 316-269-6760 or psuellentrop@wichitaeagle.com.

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