Wichita State won 10 basketball games by 10 or fewer points last season. Clevin Hannah, WSU's leading scorer, best shooter and point guard, didn't make a basket in the final five minutes of half those wins.
The point is not that Hannah didn't take and make big shots for the Shockers — he did. The point is so did other players. Hannah's departure changes things late in the game and late in the shot clock. The Shockers are ready to find new ways to win beginning with tonight's exhibition game against Newman at Koch Arena.
"The thing about Clevin that was so great, was if we needed a big shot, we had a lot of faith in him," senior Graham Hatch said. "We have so many threats on this team that we don't have to depend on one person to get a good shot up. We have a great chemistry, and we trust each other a lot."
The first look at WSU without Hannah, an All-Missouri Valley Conference pick in 2010, will be a bit out of focus. Junior Joe Ragland, a transfer from North Platte (Neb.) Community College, will start at point guard by default. Sophomore Demetric Williams is benched for the first half as a disciplinary move from last spring. Ragland and Williams are so evenly matched, coach Gregg Marshall flipped a coin to decide on a starter for Saturday's closed scrimmage against Denver.
"Ultimately, we will have two guys out there who can give us quality minutes," Marshall said.
Ragland and Williams will benefit from plenty of experience around them. WSU returns four starters from last season and they should ease the burden on the point guards. Junior Toure Murry owns plenty of experience in crucial situations. He developed a knack for game-winning shots as a freshman and is versatile enough to drive to the basket or shoot over defenders.
"Anybody can step up big," Murry said. "I can do it. We can definitely count on Graham. We've got all types of guys that can step out and hit the three."
Murry, a 6-foot-5 guard, is WSU's leading returning scorer after averaging 11.9 points. One of his goals for his sophomore season was to become a better defender, and he earned a spot on the Missouri Valley Conference's All-Defensive Team. Murry also cut down on his turnovers and increased his assists.
In his third season, Murry wants to improve his outside shooting. He made 32.1 percent of his threes as a freshman and upped that to 33.1 percent last season.
"I definitely want to get that up," Murry said. "I think that will really help with Clevin gone for me to step up. I'm working on it every day."
A Shocker big man hasn't led the team in scoring since Kyle Wilson in 2007. That might change this season. Center Garrett Stutz and forward J.T. Durley are capable of big scoring games. They should not lack opportunities.
We've really focused on trying to get the ball to them," Hatch said. "The more success they have, the more double teams they will create. It leaves a lot of shooters open."
Newman, an NCAA Division II school, is playing its second exhibition game. Chip Steven led the Jets with 13 points in an 83-56 loss at Kansas State on Nov. 2. Tommy Brumbelow scored 12 points.
Newman returns four starters, including guard Keaton Schultz. He averaged 13.8 points and made 51.1 percent of his threes last season.
WSU defeated Newman 81-69 last season in an exhibition. Murry led the Shockers with 16 points.
Shockers on the way — The signing period begins today and Wichita State owns oral commitments from three players.
Chaska (Minn.) forward Jake White, Whitefield Academy (Ga.) guard Tekele Cotton and Heights guard Evan Wessel are expected to sign with the Shockers.
The signing period ends Nov. 17. Coaches cannot comment on players until they receive the signed letter of intent.