Wichita State’s 74-70 loss continues a post-season that is off to a disappointing start for the MVC. The Shockers, as the second-place team playing at home, have to take the brunt of that disappointment. The NIT gave the Shockers a chance to make a statement, and the Shockers lost at home to the second-place team from the WAC.
Indiana State lost at Saint Louis in the CBI. Illinois State lost at Dayton in the NIT. Creighton and Missouri State won home games in the CIT.
In the three losses, a difference in athletic ability was obvious. Dayton overwhelmed the Redbirds. Nevada was able to cover up fundamental flaws with length and quickness. Saint Louis easily handled the Sycamores, who were playing without senior Harry Marshall.
In the past three post-seasons, MVC teams are 0-2 in the NCAA Tournament (with Northern Iowa still to play) and 4-7 in the NIT.
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It’s clear the Valley schools need to take a half-step (or more) up in athletic ability to compete with the top schools in conferences the MVC likes to consider peers – the Atlantic-10, the Mountain West, the WAC, etc. Athletic ability isn’t everything. Smart play, good coaching and shooting can overcome a lot. The MVC isn’t far behind its opponents, but it’s far enough that the difference is noticeable. Nevada’s quickness, strength and length took the Shockers out of their game, especially in the first half. The Wolf Pack blocked or altered several shots early in the game, and WSU never looked comfortable scoring.
Recruiting isn’t as much a mystery as sometimes we make it to be – it usually comes down to connections, resources and location. Perhaps recruiting in the MVC will improve as the recent new crop of coaches – Marshall, McKenna, Martin, Jankovich etc. – grows more established. All four of those coaches appear to be on the right track. They know the kind of athletes it takes and, in some cases, have some on the roster.
The good news for WSU fans is that improved athletic ability appears to be on order for next season. As senior Clevin Hannah talked about after the game, freshman Demetric Williams is bigger and quicker than Hannah. Should Williams continue his rapid improvement and win the the starting job, WSU will be more athletic at point. We saw that during the season, when big guards such as MSU’s Nafis Ricks gave Hannah more problems than they gave Williams. Center Ehimen Orukpe, a sophomore next season after he arrives from junior college, will also help. His height and shot-blocking ability, even if it’s only for 10-12 minutes a game, will give WSU a presence better than most teams.
The Shockers are still recruiting – forward Will Clyburn from Marshalltown (Iowa) Community College visited for Wednesday’s game. It won’t be a huge surprise if another scholarship opens up, giving coaches another chance to upgrade athletically. WSU’s returners will be a year older. They, too, should grow quicker and stronger before next season. It’s been apparent in the final game of the past two seasons – Stanford in 2009 and Nevada in 2010 – that the Shockers need improvement to compete deep into post-season tournaments.