When Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall looks at his roster, he can see possible solutions for his problems. When Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson looks at his, he sees more problems and any solution is likely a year away.
Two struggling teams meet on Tuesday at SIU Arena, although the level of struggles and expectations differ greatly. Wichita State (19-4, 8-3 Missouri Valley Conference) remains nationally ranked (No. 22 in the coaches poll), and in second place in the MVC after an 0-2 week. SIU ( 8-14, 1-10) is on a six-game losing streak and Hinson started five guards in Saturday’s 36-point loss at Illinois State.
During Monday’s conference call with reporters, he theorized that aliens captured his players since a Jan. 9 game against WSU and mused about next season, when he estimates his team will be at least 80 percent new.
“We started the shortest team ever in the history of NCAA Division I basketball,” Hinson said. “As far as a starting lineup for Tuesday — our starting lineup goes by responsibility and what our guys do off the floor. We’ve got another 48 hours… before starting lineups are announced and that’s an enormous amount of time for our guys to screw up.”
Marshall’s list of problems isn’t nearly as long. The Shockers need to make baskets at a reasonable rate, a task that looks more difficult after scoring 55 points in a 13-point home loss to Indiana State and a season-low 52 in Saturday’s five-point loss at Northern Iowa.
The Shockers started MVC play shooting 46 percent or better in their first six games. Since then, the trend is down, bottoming out with a season-low 27.1 against Indiana State and 40.4 against Northern Iowa. In wins over Creighton (38 percent) and Missouri State (37 percent), WSU survived poor shooting. Last week, it discovered it can’t do that all season. Teams are taking away offensive rebounds and transition baskets from the Shockers, forcing them to score against set defenses. It is a challenge for a team that lacks great shooters who can spread defenses and open up driving lanes. Marshall said he took a patient approach in Sunday’s practice.
“I didn’t think it was a time to really get after them,” he said. “I thought (Sunday), they needed encouragement more than anything. We tried to figure out ways to get guys shots and see the ball going through the basket.”
WSU’s best shooter is junior Nick Wiggins, a transfer who makes 52.2 percent of his three-pointers. His playing time, however, is often limited by his liabilities defending and rebounding. Marshall may be forced to live with Wiggins’ mistakes to benefit from his scoring. On Saturday, he scored eight points in 16 minutes, making 2 of 3 three-pointers. He played the final 3:06 and his three brought the Shockers within 51-48 with 1:39 to play.
“He’s getting better (defensively),” Marshall said. “There’s still a long ways for him to go. We’ve certainly got to find ways to utilize his offensive skills.”
The Salukis aren’t nearly as close to solving their problems. Center Dantiel Daniels went scoreless in a loss to Drake and then responded to coming off the bench against Illinois State by scoring one point. Guard Desmar Jackson, one of the Valley’s top talents, lost his starting job after showing up late to team functions. So Hinson started five players 6-foot-3 and under against ninth-place Illinois State.
After trailing by 12 at halftime, SIU collapsed in the second half. Hinson earned two technical fouls and an ejection in the final minute.
“Up until the 12-minute mark at Illinois State, they had really played their tails off for me,” Hinson said. “In the last 12 minutes, we just quit.”
One coach and one team will feel better after Tuesday’s game.
“I’m assuming they’re going to be a little angry with the way they’ve played, and we should be angry with the way we played our last outing or two,” Marshall said.