Wichita State basketball coach Gregg Marshall turned history teacher this week with his players.
The Shockers (19-5, 8-4 Missouri Valley Conference) are slumping with a three-game losing streak. The offense is the main culprit, and is likely dragging down the defensive effort. WSU plays Missouri State (7-17, 5-7) on Saturday at Koch Arena in desperate need of a win to stay in the conference race and stop the deterioration of its NCAA Tournament resume.
When Marshall gathered the Shockers, he hit on three key points.
• He showed the Shockers video of wins over VCU, Southern Miss and Iowa. In those games, the Shockers played passionate, unyielding defense and chased down loose balls and rebounds.
“It just is not there right now,” he said. “We showed them: ‘This is what we were doing. Now is this what you were seeing when Southern Illinois is going on this run? Is the same type of passion and energy that you’re playing with?’ ”
When the Shockers play that way, they win, as Marshall has done throughout his career. In a season of accommodations and adjustments for injuries and inexperience, Marshall is sticking with his system. He showed the players — eight of whom are in their first or second season at WSU — that past teams won big by playing that way. Don’t look for dramatic changes on offense; Marshall is telling the Shockers it is time to make the system work the way others did.
“We’ve tinkered as much as we’re going to tinker,” he said. “We’re not going to change anything else. We’re going to figure out how to win like other teams have done. We’re going to forget these three (games).”
• Part of that past is demanding practices. When injuries hit the Shockers in mid-December, Marshall felt forced to cut back. With three starters sidelined, he knew he couldn’t afford more casualties. Now, the players are asking to hit it hard again in practice.
“I may have loosened up a little bit as far as the grind in practice, and that may be part of our problem,” Marshall said. “We did kind of back off in terms of our length and the amount of phsicality. We’re getting back to that a little bit, but in limited doses.”
• Marshall asked five players how many NCAA appearances WSU owns since selections in 1987 and 1988. The answers reveal that the players rarely look up to the banners at Koch Arena and they think making the NCAA Tournament at WSU is a lot easier than it really is. They guessed nine, eight, seven, six and five.
WSU didn’t make it until 2006 and then again in 2012.
His message: Don’t take it for granted. This team is trying to make the tournament in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1988.
“They have no idea,” Marshall said. “All they know is 27, 29 wins, 25 wins, NIT championship. That’s how little they have, perspective, they have of the history, and how difficult it is.”
That lack of history may be the key factor in WSU’s losses. Nobody on this team has won fewer than 25 games. None of them have lost three in a row as a Shocker. When times got tough, the Shockers had little experience to fall back on. Marshall saw it in the rushed shots and lack of composure late in Tuesday’s 64-62 loss at Southern Illinois. Instead of trusting the system, players default to what might have worked at a lower level. He also saw it late in the first half when the Shockers gave up most of a 17-point lead. He watched one good defensive stand go to waste when SIU’s T.J. Lindsay made a guarded three-pointer and it deflated the Shockers.
“That’s all it takes sometimes with a group as inexperienced as this group,” Marshall said. “It doesn’t take much for them to get out of kilter. They’ve not gone through this.”