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Commentary Bob Lutz: Roster is deep, just the way Gregg Marshall likes it

  • Published Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013, at 12 a.m.

By now, we know Gregg Marshall’s winning formula.

Play guys until their gas tanks hit empty, then put other guys out there until they’re on fumes.

Then repeat.

Defense first, second and third. Rebounding fourth, fifth and sixth.

Then Marshall starts to concern himself with offense. And that, in a nutshell, is the way Wichita State’s coach goes about his business, a business that has produced 87 wins the past three seasons and a Final Four appearance in April.

The Shockers’ depth sets them apart. Marshall will give a player significant minutes provided that player gives him something in return — a relentless effort on defense and a willingness to crash the boards. Play hard, even if you don’t necessarily play long. And leave your ego in the dorm room because there’s no room for a big head.

The 2013-14 version of the Shockers looks a lot like the other teams Marshall has coached during his six seasons at WSU. There are a lot of players who can play. And a lot of players who will play, if they go about their business the way Marshall demands.

The Shockers have a lot of good players who are more concerned with being bad. These guys are tough, tenacious, gritty, focused. Bad to the bone.

Marshall might substitute more than any coach I’ve seen, but there’s a method to his turnstile approach. He’s a leg man and the fresher the better. If a player gasps for air, he’s out of the game. Somebody with fresher lungs is coming in.

So if you’re worried about how Marshall is going to find enough backcourt playing time for Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker, Tekele Cotton, Evan Wessel, Nick Wiggins and freshman Ria’n Holland, stop fretting. Marshall and his assistants will figure it out and everybody will be as happy as can be.

If you have doubts about the front line beyond forward Cleanthony Early, find something else to question. Marshall will figure it out because he always does. He’ll find a way to get the most production possible from Kadeem Coleby, Shaq Morris, Chadrack Lufile and junior-college transfer Darius Carter, the Shockers’ most intriguing newcomer.

There are 12 or 13 players on Wichita State’s roster who can make a case for playing time. And if 12 or 13 make a case that’s strong enough, chances are Marshall will use them.

Some coaches can’t adapt to teams with the Shockers’ kind of depth. Marshall revels in finding ways to get a bunch of players into the mix. He’s a mad scientist.

The starting lineup matters less at Wichita State than anywhere else in the country. The Shockers often have six, seven, eight, nine starters. Do I hear 10?

Early, the preseason player of the year in Missouri Valley Conference, averaged a modest 13.9 points last season. That’s the most points a player has averaged for the Shockers during the Marshall era.

Under some coaches, Early would average 20 points in his sleep because the offense would be geared around him and he would be on the floor 30 to 35 minutes every night.

But Early averaged just 25 minutes last season, when he was adapting to Marshall’s defensive and rebounding demands. When Early slacked in those areas, he found himself seeking shelter on the bench regardless of how he was performing offensively.

In the past five seasons only two players — Toure Murry and Clevin Hannah in 2009-10 — averaged 30 or more minutes.

Last season’s Shockers, though, included 11 players who averaged more than 10 minutes. That’s two more than fellow Final Four participants Louisville and Syracuse and four more than Michigan. Those three teams had a combined 10 players who averaged at least 30 minutes.

Not Marshall’s style. He serves a huge pie and makes sure everyone gets a bite. Provided they play defense and rebound.

I’ve heard Marshall talk about his playing days and how the only way he could earn playing time was to do the hard stuff. He devoted himself to defense so much that soon it wasn’t as hard. And his ability to defend and grab a few rebounds allowed him an opportunity to play, even though he lacked offensive skills.

He’s a coach true to himself and he has established one of the most tried-and-true winning formulas in Shocker history.

It goes something like this: Whip a bunch of guys into shape, convince them that a relentless pursuit of the basketball is the only way to play, and reap the rewards that a team with a like-minded approach brings.

Marshall’s way works. Every time.

Reach Bob Lutz at 316-268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @boblutz.

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