When Wichita State men’s basketball coaches pick up recruits at the airport, their first stop is often Intrust Bank Arena, where they can show off their one-two punch of facilities versatility.
Like a downtown arena with luxury suites suitable for NBA (exhibition) games? Wichita State plays a yearly game in that kind of place. Searching for an on-campus home with practice gym and a history of loud and enthusiastic crowds? Koch Arena is the next stop.
Intrust Bank Arena, WSU’s second home for the past four seasons, continues to pay off. WSU uses it as a recruiting aid, adding a bit of big-time flavor most schools lack. As Saturday’s game against Tennessee proved, the arena also helps the Shockers schedule. A team reluctant to venture inside Koch Arena might be tempted into a game downtown.
“We believe for some folks, that’s a difference-maker,” WSU athletic director Eric Sexton said.
For all those reasons and more, Sexton and coach Gregg Marshall are fans of playing downtown.
Shocker senior Cleanthony Early remembers his stop at Intrust Bank Arena. Coaches had his jersey ready for viewing. They told Early they use the downtown arena as a lure for top opponents and that it holds 15,000 fans.
“It was pretty cool, the fact we had an alternate gym and if we ever got a big-time game they highlighted that we would be playing there,” Early said.
Junior Darius Carter also liked the near-NBA quality of the arena.
“It’s a beautiful arena,” he said. “It’s good to play in a big atmosphere with a bunch of fans screaming at you so you can get used to playing away where they have a bunch of fans.”
Without Intrust Bank Arena, Saturday’s game with Tennessee likely doesn’t happen. When talks started, WSU offered to start the series on the road and play their home game downtown.
That pitch will continue as WSU works on next season’s schedule. It could place games against Alabama, Saint Louis or Tulsa there next season. But it will wait as long as possible to see if it (or a promoter) can find another attractive opponent. Last season, a promoter found WSU a game with Southern Mississippi, which turned out to be a top-30 RPI win.
“It does open up other options,” Marshall said.
Sexton is pleased with the evolution of the ticketing process. In the first year, WSU made the game part of the season-ticket package and encountered problems matching seats in Koch with seats in Intrust. This season, WSU gave season-ticket holders first choice before opening sales up to the public.
“We’ll always look and see what the best system is for that particular year and that particular opponent,” he said. “I think we’re getting closer to the best mechanism to give people respect for their history and giving while giving them a choice.”
30-day verdict — With the college basketball season one month old, the NCAA released statistics comparing scoring and shooting with past years. The push to allow offensive players more freedom of movement and cut down on physical defense appears to be working.
Teams are averaging 73.8 points, up from 67.5 last season and 68.3 after one month last season. Shooting percentage is up to 44.7 from 43.3 in 2012-13. Turnovers are down from 13.3 to 12.75.
Free throws, while on the rise, don’t appear to be taking over the game. Fouls are up two a game per team and free throws are up by five a game.
“It hasn’t been that big a deal with us,” Marshall said. “We haven’t really seen the free throw contests that we’ve heard about.”
On the way — WSU signee Rashard Kelly, a 6-foot-7 forward, scored 23 points to lead all scorers in Hargrave (Va.) Military Academy’s 95-93 win over Fishburne (Va.) Military Academy last week. Fishburne is ranked No. 1 among post-graduate teams by an Internet site that covers prep schools. Hargrave is No. 5.
• Kilgore (Texas) College enters the holiday break 11-0 and ranked No. 3 in the NJCAA Division I poll. WSU signee Bush Wamukota, a 7-foot center, averages 7.0 points and 8.5 rebounds. He is shooting 45.3 percent from field and 63.3 percent from the foul line. He scored 10 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in Wednesday’s 88-83 win at Blinn (Texas) College.
Bears are back — Missouri State received unexpected good news when Marcus Marshall and Keith Pickens played in Friday’s 70-67 win at Oral Roberts. Both suffered sprained knees on Nov. 24 and the prognosis had them out for four-to-six weeks, perhaps back in time for Missouri Valley Conference play.
Marshall scored 20 points in 25 minutes against ORU. Pickens played 26 minutes and had three steals and four rebounds.
“Sitting out these last four or five games was real tough, watching my team play,” Marshall told the Springfield News-Leader. “I felt I could really help us in so many ways and it felt great to be back.”