Bob Lutz: Shockers have five for all occasions

10/27/2011 7:31 AM

10/27/2011 7:31 AM

Gregg Marshall wouldn't call it an emergency plan. Or a backup plan. Not even a Plan B.

At times this basketball season, Wichita State will go with a small lineup — four perimeter players and a post player.

It has worked for teams in the size-challenged Missouri Valley Conference. Just last season, Missouri State won an MVC championship with a bunch of smaller guys on the floor and Indiana State made the NCAA Tournament without getting much from its bigs.

So prepare for times when four from a group that includes Joe Ragland, Toure Murry, David Kyles, Ben Smith and Demetric Williams will be in the game together, attempting to wreak havoc.

There are four seniors and a junior in that group.

"We're going to put the team out there that gives us the best chance to win,'' Marshall said. "Sometimes that means having the most experienced players in the game.''

Ideally, Marshall wants a more traditional lineup on the floor at any given moment. A center, a power forward, a small forward, a shooting guard and a point guard.

Senior 7-footer Garrett Stutz, who finished last season with some big-time performances in the NIT, is going to be the center. Now he just needs to be the center for longer periods, besting the 14.7 minutes he averaged a season ago thanks to foul trouble and outstanding frontcourt depth.

That depth is gone. The rest of the Shockers' potential frontline is young and raw, including a second 7-footer, junior Ehimen Orupke.

Marshall says Orupke, a Nigerian who was limited to mostly mop-up minutes last season as he tried to grasp the college game, is starting to find his way. Don't look for Hakeem Olajuwon to blossom, but Orukpe can, Marshall believes, be a rebounder and shot blocker.

Junior-college transfer Carl Hall, a 6-8, 233-pound bruiser, is going to be in the mix, too, as are 6-7 juco transfer James Anacreon and 6-8 freshman Jake White.

But Hall, Anacreon and White have played zero minutes of Division I basketball. Orupke has played 98. And Stutz hasn't played nearly the minutes he should be playing because he fouls too much — one every 6.6 minutes during his career.

Marshall has to figure out how to replace the production — offensive and defensive — he received from J.T. Durley, Gabe Blair, Aaron Ellis and Graham Hatch last season. Those guys combined for 34.4 points and 17.5 rebounds and shot a collective 49.7 percent.

"We were so big last year,'' Marshall said. "We went 7-feet and 6-8 at center and 6-8 and 6-9 at the 4. And it was effective; we were bigger than any other Valley team.''

It's going to take time for some of the Shockers' new frontline players to develop. But that's OK, because there's a Plan B that Marshall doesn't want to even call a Plan B.

He can go with Ragland at the point, Kyles as a shooting guard, Murry as a small forward and Smith — all 6-4 of him — at power forward.

Kyles, Murry and Smith are excellent athletes, capable of holding their own on the boards. Kyles and Smith, especially, are good at attacking the basket.

It could work.

"We can out-run most of the teams we play,'' Kyles said. "We condition every day in practice and all summer. We put in a lot of work that a lot of teams don't. We all know that we have to hit the boards because we lost a lot from last year. But it's nothing we can't do, so we might as well.''

Before we get carried away here, let's remember that basketball is a tall man's game. And Marshall knows the Shockers will be better if Stutz has a big season, if Hall is a major contributor as a starter and if Anecreon and White are doing good things off the bench.

"You like to have the big guys in this game,'' Marshall said. "The closer they are to the basket — the thought process is — the easier it is to just drop the basketball in the basket.''

Still, the Shockers are loaded with talented and experienced perimeter players. That's the team's strength and Marshall is going to play to that strength.

Ragland is primed to have a huge season, much like Clevin Hannah had during his senior season in 2009-10.

Murry and Kyles are seniors now. They could combine to average 30 points.

There were times last season when Smith looked like one of the best players on the floor. And times when he disappeared. Like Ragland, he's beginning his second season with WSU after transferring from a junior college. And like Ragland, he could have a breakthrough season.

Williams is another guard who should have his best season.

"There's a chance we could play four of those guys who are 6-4 and under,'' Marshall said. "We'll probably do that. But my first option is to try and get these big guys to play. Carl is going to play. Jake is probably going to play. James is probably going to play.''

How much? How soon?

That depends. But Marshall won't panic as he prepares them for the season. He has an intriguing 6-4-and-under team ready to go.

About Bob Lutz

Bob Lutz has been The Eagle's sports columnist since 1996. A native of Derby, he has worked for the newspaper since 1974 and covered a variety of beats, from high schools to Wichita State to pro sports. If you want to get in good with him, mention the St. Louis Cardinals. Provided they're winning, of course.

Contact Bob at 316-268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com

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