February 15, 2012

Bob Lutz: Everything’s going right for Shockers

Wichita State is lapping the field, knocking people out, throwing its weight around.

Wichita State is lapping the field, knocking people out, throwing its weight around.

The Shockers are a basketball juggernaut of late, shooting the lights out and defending with every ounce of their being. They’re bullying the rest of the Missouri Valley Conference, whose nine other teams get out of the way when they see Wichita State coming.

As Missouri State coach Paul Lusk talked about the Shockers on Wednesday night, shortly after his Bears were on the short end of a 73-58 whipping, I thought someone might have to hand him a handkerchief.

Lusk went on and on and on about how good the Shockers were, proclaiming that Missouri State would have needed to play a perfect game to beat Wichita State. And in all honesty, I don’t even think he believed that.

I know we’re sitting here in little ol’ Wichita, Kansas, but the Shockers, the way they’re playing lately, are becoming the Jeremy Lin of college basketball.

Whereas nobody nationally was talking much about Wichita State before its impressive win at Creighton on Saturday, the Shockers are buzzing now. And the way they handled Missouri State won’t calm the perception that this team could be the Butler of 2012.

“I think these guys deserve it,’’ Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said of the increase in national pub. “I think they’re playing really good. When the calendar rolled around to (December) we were 2-2. Now we’re 23-4 and we’ve beaten some good basketball teams during that period of time.’’

And if peaking in mid-February is a team’s goal, the Shockers can check that off their list.

They have blitzed Northern Iowa, Creighton and Missouri State in succession, making 57.7 percent of its field-goal attempts (90 of 156), 57.4 percent from the three-point line (31 of 54) and 91.7 percent of its free throws (33 of 36).

The Shockers could shoot from Section 123, Row 24 and score, as hot as they have been of late. It was evident when Joe Ragland’s reverse layup in the first half hit the top of the backboard, then fell through the basket, that Wichita State is in another zone at the moment.

“Wichita (State) is just super,” Missouri State’s Lusk said during his speech anointing the Shockers as the best thing since sliced bread. “It seems like they could do whatever they wanted to do out there. They’re very, very good. They just make plays.”

Lusk barely mentioned his own team. It wouldn’t surprise me if he buys a ticket to watch WSU play in the NCAA Tournament.

And barring a complete and utter collapse, that’s where the Shockers are headed. And as a potential high seed, too. There’s not a team in the country Wichita State can’t compete with. And that means you, Kentucky. And yes, Syracuse, you, too. Oh, and Kansas, don’t think I’m not talking about you.


OK, maybe just a little. But just a little. Anybody who has been watching knows the Shockers are a threat because of their experience, their talent, their depth and their coaching.

This is a senior-laden team that is not all that impressed with clinching a tie for the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season championship, as it did Wednesday night. There’s more, starting with an interesting BracketBusters matchup Saturday on the road at Davidson, which won its 20th game Wednesday night by beating Samford.

Davidson won’t be easy. But I’ll guarantee you Wildcats coach Bob McKillop is going to have some uneasy times in the days and hours leading up Saturday.

The Shockers are peaking. And Davidson is just another team in the way.

As Lusk waxed poetic about Wichita State, he mentioned how tough it is to account for everyone on a team with so many weapons.

Senior guard Toure Murry didn’t shoot well Wednesday night, making one of six shots. But he had eight assists and one turnover in 36 minutes. So the bad shooting night didn’t really matter. Murry gets to go to the head of the class for his performance.

David Kyles was a no-show in the first half for the Shockers, when his only points came on a pair of free throws. But in the second half, Kyles erupted for 10 points, all of them during a 2:38 stretch during which the Shockers were expanding their lead from two points to 14.

Point guard Joe Ragland is pushing for first-team All-Missouri Valley Conference honors. He’s a dynamo, in the middle of everything.

Demetric Williams plays strong defense and didn’t miss a shot against Missouri State (3 of 3 from the field, 2 of 2 at the free-throw line).

Easy-going Ben Smith has been a killer defender in the past two games. Given the assignment of checking Creighton’s Doug McDermott and Missouri State’s Kyle Weems – the favorite for Valley player of the year and last season’s recipient – Smith has held them to 23 points on 9-of-28 shooting. McDermott and Weems are capable of putting their teams on their backs. So what did Smith do? He busted up their backs.

That brings us to senior center Garrett Stutz. Or is it senior guard Garrett Stutz? Maybe a little of both, considering he made all four of his three-point shots Wednesday night, finishing with 21 points and 10 rebounds – another double-double.

Stutz had been 6 of 22 from the three-point line before Wednesday, but there’s nothing wrong with his deep stroke.

“There wasn’t enough sample size before,’’ Marshall said. “Now the sample size is growing and that percentage is going way up.’’

Everything about the Shockers is going way up.

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