It has been nearly three years since Wichita State was able to bolster its postseason resume with a victory over a team in the top 20 in the regular season.
If the No. 8 Shockers (5-1) are to end that streak Saturday against No. 16 Baylor (5-1), they will have to end one of college basketball’s longest streaks. Baylor has won 46 consecutive non-conference home games at the Ferrell Center, the second-longest active streak, and outscored opponents by an average of 22.7 points.
The last time WSU beat a top-20 team in the regular season was Northern Iowa on Feb. 28, 2015; the last time it beat one on the road was at Creighton on Feb. 11, 2012.
“It’s a big challenge,” WSU assistant coach Donnie Jones said. “They’ve been terrific at home, winning 46 non-conference games in a row. That’s an impressive number. They’ve got a great atmopshere down there I know in Waco and it’s going to be another great challenge for our basketball team walking into that type of atmosphere.”
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It’s a challenge more manageable with point guard Landry Shamet, whose availability was in question after turning his right ankle in the first half of Tuesday’s win over Savannah State. Jones said Shamet practiced Thursday and is expected play against Baylor.
The news wasn’t as optimistic on Zach Brown, who sat out Tuesday’s game after injuring his left knee in practice. Jones said Brown was able to participate in running, but did not practice on Thursday and the team is still awaiting the results of his MRI. His availability will likely be a game-time decision.
Baylor has its own injury issues, as 6-foot-8 senior Terry Maston (11.7 points, 7.7 rebounds) broke his hand in Tuesday’s loss to Xavier and is sidelined until January. It cuts Baylor’s already-short rotation to seven against WSU.
“They lost a very good player, but I’m sure they’ve got a lot of other guys sitting on that bench waiting for the opportunity,” Jones said. “There will be some guys I’m sure who will take advantage of the chance to grow and get better, I just hope it’s not on Saturday.”
Baylor coach Scott Drew is renowned for his ability to recruit length and athleticism, which will present WSU a unique challenge. The Bears have 7-footer Jo Lual-Acuil (13 points, 10 rebounds, 1.3 blocks) and 6-9 players Nuni Omot and Tristan Clark.
When Baylor goes zone, it’s difficult for opponents to weave their way through the limbs. Baylor’s defense ranks 22nd in Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency ranking, as the Bears have been proficient at contesting shots, limiting opponents to one shot, and keeping them off the foul line.
Wichita State is the third-best team nationally at limiting offensive rebounds by opponents and No. 15 at retrieving them — the only team in college basketball to rank in the top 15 of both categories.
“We’re going to be at a deficiency when it comes to size and athleticism,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said this week. “We’re going to have to work a little harder, be better with our checks, be more diligent with our pursuit of the ball on the offensive glass. Usually we’re a good rebounding team, so we’ll see.”
But more concerning is how WSU will handle Baylor’s zone defense. The Shockers failed to shoot any team out of zone in the Maui Invitational and finished the three-game stretch shooting under 30 percent beyond the arc. They shot 40 percent from three last season.
Marshall said after reviewing the video he was pleased with the shots they were hoisting. It’s just a matter of them finally falling.
That means it will be up to shooters like Conner Frankamp and Austin Reaves to pick their moments on Saturday.
“We are a good shooting team and we have a lot of different guys who can make shots,” Jones said. “It’s about being able to get the right shots in rhythm. Making the extra pass, playing inside-out against a zone. There’s a lot of factors. I think sometimes those guys are pressing, hurrying themselves, so you’re not shooting the same way when you do that no matter how good of a shooter you are.
“But the great shooters don’t remember their misses, they’re focused on making the next one.”
WSU doesn’t have the personnel to simulate the length of Baylor’s zone in practice, so the guards will have to make sure the ball stays moving and attack the middle and short corners against the zone. Post players Shaquille Morris, Rauno Nurger, and Darral Willis can help alleviate things by flashing to the middle and still make points in the paint a priority.
Jones said he is expecting the game to come down to the final few possessions, much like the Notre Dame game.
The Shockers have seen how crucial every possession can be. Now they’ll have to prove they can finish in a rowdy environment over a quality team.
“We’ve got the ability to play a lot of different ways and that’s what is unique about this team,” Jones said. “We’re capable of playing against zone. We’ve got so many different weapons that we can utilize, as long as we execute.
“We know how vital it is when you play good teams like Notre Dame and Baylor how every possession matters all the time.”
No. 8 Wichita St. at No. 16 Baylor
When: 1 p.m. Saturday
Where: Ferrell Center, Waco, Texas
Records: WSU 5-1, BU 5-1