Wichita State basketball coach Gregg Marshall loves the three-pointer. Properly used, it’s an efficient shot, it spreads the defense and can break open a game.
Opponents feared last season’s WSU team for many reasons, chief among them its ability to bury an opponent with threes. This season’s team won’t provoke the same fear without continued improvement, especially if guard Evan Wessel’s finger injury is a lingering problem.
After shooting 30 percent from three in Thursday’s 69-60 loss at Tennessee, No. 23 WSU (9-1) is shooting 32.1 percent for the season. In its past five games, however, it is 31 of 82 (37.8 percent), largely thanks to a 12-for-24 performance against Northern Colorado.
“You’ve got to make more than 30 percent,” Marshall said after the loss to Tennessee. “It’s been getting better (recently), but 30 percent’s not going to help.”
In the first 10 games last season, WSU made eight or more threes five times. A signature 89-70 win over then-No 18 UNLV featured 12-of-23 threes, eight by Joe Ragland. This season’s team hadn’t made more than seven before lighting up Northern Colorado in an 80-54 win.
The 10-game trend says this team isn’t going to enjoy many of those hot nights.
Marshall isn’t ready to concede that, not surprisingly. He is coaching a team with many newcomers who could figure out the arc next game, next week or next month as they learn how to get more open shots.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who are confident enough to make shots,” guard Demetric Williams said. “People worked on their jumpers in the offseason.”
This season, the Shockers with the most attempts are struggling. Malcolm Armstead (11 of 34) and Ron Baker (16 of 50) are two or three good games away from an acceptable level. Cleanthony Early (6 of 29) is in a deeper hole. Wessel (11 of 24) is out with a broken finger. Williams (9 of 20) and Nick Wiggins (5 of 13) are shooting well at a limited pace.
“Christmas break is a big month for our team,” Baker said. “We’re going to have to get each other in the gym and get up shots after practice.”
Center Carl Hall gives WSU a reliable inside threat. It is up to the shooters to keep defenses from ganging up on him with double-teams or zones.
“Conference play starts and we’re going to need to shoot the ball, because a lot of people are going to be focusing on Carl,” Baker said.
Last season’s team — with five seniors — suffered through clunkers from deep early and raised its accuracy as the season progressed. It made 32.7 percent of its threes in its first six games, improved to 35.8 after 10 games and finished at 37.1 percent, best in Marshall’s five seasons.
Kansas State’s Bruce Weber, Vanderbilt’s Kevin Stallings, New Mexico’s Steve Alford and, yes, Maryland’s Mark Turgeon — Boatright is thinking of you. He works on WSU’s scheduling and knows how those games could help MVC schools. Most important, he believes playing the Shockers isn’t a charity game.
“Guys like Bruce Weber need to step up and recognize that the Valley gave them a start and they need to recognize the type of basketball we play in this conference,” Boatright said. “We need guys like Bruce and we need guys like (Tim) Jankovich (at SMU) … and we need guys to give back with respect for the place that gave them their start.”
Martin spent three seasons at Missouri State and is in his second season at Tennessee.
“I’ve said when I got a job at this level, I would give Missouri Valley teams an opportunity,” he said Thursday. “I don’t know if that was a very smart move, but we came out with a win."
Even though he avoided Koch Arena for next season’s return game — it’s to be played at Intrust Bank Arena — Martin should be applauded for setting up dates between two good teams and ignoring the perceived risks.
“Hopefully, when we move forward in the future, fans will recognize the fact that you don’t have to have a BCS name to know that it’s a good opponent,” he said. “We’ve gone away from those days. It’s not like it used to be.”
That attitude is rare in the highest levels of the game. Martin recognizes a game against WSU can help his team with its power ranking (RPI) and serve as a notable win.
“I love the fact that Cuonzo Martin sees value in that,” Boatright said.