DePaul vs. Wichita State
Many basketball teams let their energy on defense fade when their offense struggles. Center Ehimen Orukpe thinks Wichita State is a team that can avoid that trap.
Playing defense, he believes, will be this team’s go-to asset, no matter how quickly the scoreboard is moving.
WSU is in Mexico for the Cancun Challenge with a 4-0 record built on defense. The Shockers, who play DePaul on Tuesday, aren’t shooting the ball accurately — 43.1 percent from the field and 26.9 percent from three-point range. Their scoring average of 68 points is down almost 10 from last season.
From the start, coach Gregg Marshall said this team needed to win with defense. That fits with his most experienced returners, all of whom built their reputations with defense over offense.
“Coach Marshall already stresses defense a lot,” senior guard Demetric Williams said. “Me and Carl (Hall), being the leaders on this team, we’ll be able to stress it more because that was our main focus last year. I’ve been playing defense my whole life. It’s like second nature.”
Williams, Hall, Orukpe and Malcolm Armstead are WSU’s seniors and the main players in the team’s defensive identity. Williams and Armstead are aggressive backcourt defenders who can disrupt an offense with their physical defense and quickness. Hall and Orukpe are shot-blockers.
“That’s what we identify with — playing defense and getting stops,” Orukpe said. “We had a horrible shooting percentage (against Virginia Commonwealth). What kept us in that game and kept us on top was playing defense.”
As Saturday’s uneven 69-50 win over Howard showed, the Shockers aren’t ready to play 40 minutes of air-tight defense. Howard shot 50 percent in the second half after shooting 31.6 in the first half.
After the game, Marshall expressed dissatisfaction with his team’s effort. After watching video, he softened his critique of how hard his team played. He is dealing with an inexperienced team playing through a leg-sapping stretch of five games in nine days. He also recognized playing numerous lineup combinations make it difficult to run up a big margin.
“They were a little better than I thought when I went back and watched the video,” he said. “And (Sunday’s) practice was pretty dog-gone good.”
With four new starters and an inexperienced bench, Marshall knows there will be more ups and downs. .
“It’s more to try to get them to strive for a little more,” he said. “Do you want to be pretty good, or you want to try be great? We’ve got so many new guys that we’re continually trying to push them.”
The Shockers are proving capable of putting together stretches of superb defense. They dominated Western Carolina early last week, forcing turnovers on its first four possessions. They held VCU to 34.7-percent shooting in a 53-51 road win, the lowest point-total for the Rams since the 2010-11 season.
WSU opponents are shooting 39.3 percent and averaging 55.2 points.
With Orukpe playing more minutes, the Shockers are able to play more aggressively on the perimeter. Their depth allows Marshall to change defenses and pressure teams with his quickness and athletic ability.
“It helps a whole lot knowing that if you get beat, you’ve got a 7-footer back there that loves to block shots,” Williams said.
The four seniors possess a distinct defensive role. Armstead, who set Oregon’s record for single-season steals (65) as a sophomore, is a physical defender with surprising quickness and aggressive instincts. Williams is a ferocious on-the-ball defender who can keep opposing guards out of the lane. Hall has six blocks in four games, one behind Orukpe.
When Hall plays alongside Orukpe, he will be called upon to guard some of the Missouri Valley Conference’s top forwards, such as Creighton’s Doug McDermott and Northern Iowa’s Jake Koch. Orukpe is noticeably quicker and more aggressive defending ball screens. He is fighting harder to deny post players good position and deflect entry passes.
“It helps the team a lot when we can take on team defense and help hedge screens,” Orukpe said. “I’m not necessarily looking every time to block a shot. I have to pick and choose.”