LAHAINA, Hawaii — When Kentucky's John Calipari asked if any coach had veteran players, Wichita State's Gregg Marshall raised his hand.
That scene sums up WSU's first-round game against Connecticut in the Maui Invitational today at the Lahaina Civic Center. WSU will pit its juniors and seniors against Connecticut's sophomores and freshmen. Connecticut, as well as the other high-profile schools in Maui, didn't need to out-recruit WSU for McDonald's All-Americans to stock their rosters. The Shockers want to negate that advantage with experience and physical maturity.
It's the classic recipe for programs such as WSU — recruit, redshirt and develop players for four or five seasons and use that bond to beat teams who target better talent.
"It appears to me, just on tape, (WSU) has been built up for this to be their year," Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said. "They're very experienced. They certainly could play in a major conference."
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WSU (1-0) will likely start three seniors and two juniors and its first two front-court reserves are fifth-year seniors. The Huskies (2-0) will likely start two freshmen, two sophomores and junior star Kemba Walker.
"I'm talking about youth because of the challenge that we have," Calhoun said. "Six freshmen and three sophomores. We'll get a true indication of where we are."
Connecticut isn't the Final Four contender of recent seasons. It went 18-16 last season, 7-11 in the Big East. The roster is filled with young players — talented young players. Walker is on the Naismith Award watch list. Sophomore center Alex Oriakhi was a McDonald's All-American.
"They've got some long, athletic kids," Marshall said. "We may think we're pretty long and athletic. I think they take it to another level."
Walker scored 42 points in Wednesday's 89-73 win over Vermont. He made 15 of 24 shots and eight of 10 free throws. He also made 4 of 9 threes, and is regarded as an improving shooter with great speed and dribbling skills.
"He attacks you on the bounce," Marshall said. "We're going to have to keep guys fresh on him and try to keep him in front (of defenders)."
Oriakhi blocked five shots against Vermont and grabbed 18 rebounds in the opener against Stony Brook.
"Oriakhi is just a beast," Marshall said. "He's going to be real challenge for our post players to keep him off the glass."
To Calhoun, the stakes for today's game are different for each team. He wants to see how his youngsters play against good competition. WSU is looking to make a national splash.
"One of the ways to make noise is to knock off a Big East team," he said. "The fact we have some brand recognition, as Connecticut, would be good. We have the opportunity to make a statement that this young team has got a chance to be pretty good early."