For Wichita State basketball fans who wish for college basketball year-round, your wish is two weeks closer.
The Shockers start their Final Four follow with their first day of “regular-season” practice on Sunday. A new NCAA rule allows schools to start 42 days before their first game, moving the start of practice from mid-October to late September. Teams can practice 30 times in those 42 days.
WSU coach Gregg Marshall likes the leisurely pace because he can give the players days off for rest or academic reasons. He doesn’t need to squeeze in an early or late practice while rushing to Missouri Valley Conference media day in Chicago in late October.
“I like it because it gives us flexibility,” Marshall said. “We looked at travel plans, recruiting calendars, (daughter) Maggie’s volleyball games — those all factored in.”
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The potential downside is that the Shockers add two weeks of waiting and pounding on teammates in practice. They scrimmage Baylor on Oct. 26, play an exhibition game against Oklahoma Baptist on Nov. 2 and open the season against Emporia State on Nov. 9.
“They’re practicing no more hours, but it is going to seem like the preseason is going to be longer,” Marshall said. “They’re going to be chomping at the bit to see another team at some point.”
Sunday’s practice is hardly the first time this team — with four newcomers and three starters back from the national semifinal loss to Louisville — gets together. They practiced most of June and July and picked up again in September with short individual and team practices.
“We’re already ahead of where we would be in a normal year on Oct. 15,” he said. “There’s a lot of guys that want to play and have the ability to help us win. They’re playing really, really hard. Not playing that smart right now. Playing a little too fast, a little too reckless.”
One of Marshall’s first jobs is to solidify his backcourt after the loss of freshman D.J. Bowles. Bowles, expected to be a backup point guard, was denied medical clearance by WSU earlier this month after he underwent surgery to implant an electrical impulse at the Mayo Clinic. While sophomore Fred VanVleet is solid as the starter, Bowles’ absence means freshman Ria’n Holland and sophomore wing Ron Baker will work more at point guard. Junior wing Tekele Cotton is also on call.
“Ria’n gets a crack,” Marshall said. “(Baker) hasn’t run much point, but he can.”
Baker doesn’t consider the move much of a stretch for him. He practices with point guards at times and understands the WSU system as well as anyone on the team. The Shockers tried to deal with Louisville’s pressure defense by using several players to bring the ball up court.
“I felt pretty comfortable bringing the ball up against them, so I should have a lot of confidence bringing it up against everybody,” Baker said.
The challenge for Baker is to run the offense for longer periods of time than in the past.
“Getting the team organized,” he said. “As a point guard in this system, you’ve got to run the team and guards win championships around here. I’ve worked out with the (point guards) all summer. In the game, I’m going to actually have to control what goes on, control the clock, get my team in out-of-bounds plays.”
In the long run, Baker sees developing players with point-guard skills as a plus. The Shockers are more dangerous on offense when more players can run the offense and lead the fast break. In recent seasons, Marshall often used two or three players with point-guard experience at the same time.
“The better handlers you have, the more outlets the bigs have on the fast break,” Baker said.