More minutes in games means fewer minutes in practice for Wichita State’s starters.
Coach Gregg Marshall is watching the wear and tear on his starters and has already begun cutting back on practice demands, a routine that normally waits until later in the season. This season, WSU’s starters are playing more than in recent seasons. Ron Baker, Fred VanVleet and Tekele Cotton average 30 or more minutes.
Saturday at Missouri State, that trio played 40 or more minutes in an overtime win. Cleanthony Early played 38.
WSU, which moved up to No. 5 in the Associated Press poll on Monday, faces a quick turnaround for Tuesday’s game against Bradley (6-11, 1-3 Missouri Valley Conference) at Koch Arena. Sunday, the Shockers (17-0, 4-0) practiced and the starters took it easy. On Monday, they watched film of Bradley and practiced for about 90 minutes
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“The guys that played 40-plus minutes didn’t do anything physically (Sunday),” Marshall said. “They had a day off, basically, except for working their minds.”
Injuries, fatigue, depth. It is all a concern. WSU recently added Sky Williams as a practice player to give coaches enough bodies.
“We’ve got to get to the games,” Marshall said.
The games come quickly in January and February with two each week. In December, WSU enjoyed a six-day break. With lighter action in practice, paying attention to the scouting report becomes more important.
“You’ve got to pay attention to detail,” Baker said. “The past couple games have been two days in between. Usually one of those days is light and the next day is focus on the next opponent. That’s our biggest thing, is trying to get fresh before the next game and mentally being prepared.”
In Marshall’s previous six seasons, five players averaged 30 or more minutes — Toure Murry and Clevin Hannah in 2009-10 and P.J. Couisnard, Matt Braeuer and Gal Mekel in 2007-08. With this season’s reserves struggling to score, Marshall’s reliance and trust in his starters is at a high point. In MVC games, Early is also averaging 30-plus minutes.
“You feel it, but at the same time, this is what you’re here for and what you work for,” Early said. “This is a time where you’ve got to start paying attention to certain things, make sure your body is fresh.”
Baker scored 15 points at Missouri State and made 3 of 5 three-pointers. In his past two games, he is 6 of 11 from behind the arc and displaying the quick bounce on his jumper that he had before a left ankle sprain in mid-December.
“Getting better every week,” he said. “I felt pretty refreshed against Missouri State, as far as my jump shot. It’s starting to get back to normal.”
The Shockers have every reason to feel rejuvenated after Saturday’s 19-point rally to beat Missouri State 72-69 in overtime in front of 10,776 fans at JQH Arena. Down 54-35 with 11:48 to play, they executed almost perfectly to tie the game 64-all to force overtime. Marshall watched the game three times to prepare teaching points for Bradley.
“It’s still somewhat amazing that we were able to win that one,” Marshall said. “We made some big plays and our pressure defense really helped us. It was a really gutty second half. We’re going to be in those type of games everywhere we go, and there’s going to be a potential court-storming.”
Wichita State is also back in the top five of the AP rankings for the first time since the 1981-82 season.
The Shockers moved up one spot to No. 5 in Monday’s poll of writers and broadcasters. WSU (17-0) is one of four unbeaten teams remaining in NCAA Division I. WSU received 1,300 points in the poll and replaced Ohio State, which dropped to No. 11 after losing to Michigan State and Iowa last week.
WSU is also No. 5 in the coaches poll administered by USA Today.
Wichita State was last in the top five when it ranked No. 2 in the Dec. 29, 1981 poll. The last Missouri Valley Conference team, other than WSU, to reach the top 5, was Indiana State, which spent four weeks at No. 1 in 1979.