We’re roughly one month into the college basketball season and here’s what we know about Wichita State.
Give me a minute, please.
OK, we know the Shockers have at least 10 players capable of making a solid contribution in a game. We know there’s plenty of size, athleticism and shooting ability to make WSU viable to win another Missouri Valley Conference championship, especially considering the Valley doesn’t appear to be strong again this season.
We also know Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall is juggling his lineup some, trying to find combinations that best showcase the Shockers’ individual abilities.
It’s not easy.
These Shockers, to a man, have been prone to inconsistency. Even though Wichita State has won its six games by an average of 30-plus points, its two defeats at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas last week, to Louisville and Michigan State, were illuminating.
The pieces are there, undoubtedly. Getting them to fit is the challenge and Marshall knows his way around a jigsaw puzzle.
▪ Who plays point guard?
It was junior Conner Frankamp. But I’m not sure about Frankamp at the point. He takes care of the basketball well and moves the offense. But Frankamp hasn’t yet played with the confidence he displayed as the City League’s career scoring leader at North. He is reluctant to drive to the basket and some of that has to do with his lack of size. He’s not as quick as some of the point guards he opposes, either.
Frankamp’s special skill is shooting, but he has not displayed it consistently. Nor have the Shockers designed many offensive sets, from what I can tell, to get Frankamp shots.
Junior-college transfer Daishon Smith has the quickness and guile to be a good point guard. He can also shoot. But Smith has not been a great finisher in the lane so far, shooting 33 percent inside the three-point line.
Freshman Austin Reaves, who didn’t play in Tuesday’s 30-point win over Southern Nazarene because of a dislocated shoulder, can also play the point. He seems better suited for a wing, although his versatility is his greatest attribute.
▪ Who plays center?
The answer to this question fell into the no-brainer category just a week or so ago. But 6-foot-10 sophomore Rauno Nurger, who received the starting nod Tuesday, has made a solid case. Because, well, he’s been solid.
For the Shockers to be their best, though, 6-8 junior Shaq Morris has to be the mainstay at this position. He’s a more-skilled player and more physical than Nurger, and that’s not a knock on Nurger. He would start for a lot of teams. Morris has to do better, though, than his averages of 7.4 points, 2.5 rebounds and 15.4 minutes. He tantalizes, but too often leaves his coaching staff and fans disappointed because they expect more.
It’s time for Morris to play like a veteran and eliminate the fouls and inconsistency that have plagued his career. It’s in there and Marshall has spent more three seasons now trying to get it out.
▪ Do the Shockers have a “go-to” guy?
The beauty of this team might be that it has a lot of go-to guys. Or not enough. We’re just not quite sure yet.
Sophomore forward Markis McDuffie has a “go-to” look about him and leads WSU in scoring (11.5 points). He’s the Shockers’ preseason All-Missouri Valley Conference player, so it would make sense for him to be the offensive force on this team.
Perhaps junior frontcourt player Darral Willis is that guy. He and McDuffie are undoubtedly the Shockers’ most aggressive offensive players so far. Willis attacks the basket and loves to score. He could become a better passer, but if we’re talking about go-to guys, he’s certainly a candidate.
Guard Landry Shamet is also a key offensive player, and I’m not close to giving up on Frankamp. The Shockers can get scoring from a lot of places, so having a go-to guy on this team might not be imperative. Still, McDuffie has the best chance to develop into that guy.
▪ Is WSU still the MVC favorite?
You have to ask? Oh, wait, it’s me asking. Well yes, hands down.
Some of that is because Wichita State is still a high-quality team. And some of that is because the rest of the Valley … well.…
The Valley suffered through a 15-game losing streak last week and, yes, Wichita State contributed two of those losses. But the Shockers lost to Louisville and Michigan State.
Indiana State gave us hope by taking Iowa State and Stanford to the wire in the Advocare Invitational in Orlando, Fla., but then lost to 1-4 Quinnipiac. Missouri State is 4-1, but its best win is over North Dakota State. Loyola beat Washington State and lost a close one to North Carolina State, so maybe there’s something there. Northern Iowa looked impressive in beating Arizona State and Oklahoma but then had to play Xavier twice in succession, losing by eight and 22 points.
Illinois State’s two wins are against IPFW and Ferris State. Evansville has lost to Toledo, North Carolina-Wilmington and Middle Tennessee. Southern Illinois has beaten Murray State and three cupcakes. Bradley’s four wins are over Illinois-Springfield, Wofford, Southeast Missouri and Eastern Illinois.
Then there’s Drake. Poor, pitiful Drake, whose only win is over Sampson. Not Samson — Sampson.