WSU fans at Intrust Bank Arena for Tuesday's game.The Shockers played 11 pre-Christmas non-conference games and are where they need to be. Losses to UConn and San Diego State prevent them from being nationally ranked. The nine wins keep them on track for being in the NCAA at-large discussion. WSU hasn’t locked up a spot; nor has it done anything to eliminate itself.
WSU is No. 47 in CollegeRPI.com’s ranking today. Its best win is over No. 66 Nicholls State, so fans must hope that No. 74 Virginia continues to win. That’s an issue when one looks at the MVC and sees Missouri State at No. 98 as the only other conference school in the top 100. If there are two paths to at-large nirvana – quality of wins and quantity of wins – it’s clear which one the Shockers are forced to take.
After 11 games, we can say the Shockers are a good offensive team. If Garrett Stutz is on track, as he appears to be, it makes the Shockers that much stronger. Stutz and Durley give WSU two post-up scorers, both of whom will command double teams. David Kyles (53.8 percent) and Graham Hatch (42.3) rank in the top four of MVC three-point shooters. Durley is tied for 10th at 37.9 percent. Toure Murry makes it his mission to drive and draw fouls and his 52 attempts are second in the MVC. WSU leads the MVC in scoring (75.4 points) and assists (15.7) and are second in shooting percentage (47.7), three-point accuracy (39.6) and free throws (74.7). Turnovers are a concern, although WSU is third in the MVC in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.2). It seems safe to say this team is going to score. It will be much tougher in the MVC, where teams are scouted and schemed. I think the 50-point nights that caused problems in the past, especially on the road, should be less of a problem.WSU’s defense isn’t on the same level. It’s been good at times – see the first half at LSU – and not so good at other times. The numbers are better than I expected – WSU is second in the MVC in shooting defense (40.9), but eighth in three-point defense (35.4 percent). It also leads the MVC in rebound margin (plus-9.3). Some talented players – Kemba Walker, Justin Hurtt – lit up WSU, which is what talented players do. Unfortunately, there aren’t many (or any) of those caliber in the MVC. Penetration by guards hurt WSU early in the season, and the Shockers improved. San Diego State’s bigs dominated. Since then, WSU has out-rebounded four opponents, three by double-digits.Since that first half against LSU, WSU has allowed 38-of-74 shooting (51.4 percent) shooting and 21-of-38 shooting (55.3) from three-point range. LSU and Tulsa are solid opponents, but not NCAA-caliber teams. “Coach even said if we’re not getting back and playing defense, we’ll just walk it up,” senior Aaron Ellis said. “We want to run and play fast, but on the other hand we don’t want to jeopardize giving up 80, 90 points a night.”I found it interesting that coach Gregg Marshall inserted Joe Ragland for Toure Murry late in the game for one possession against the Tulsa zone. If Stutz is back on track, then Ragland’s development takes center stage for the rest of the season. I think he can score and create more than what he has shown. Some transfers take a step forward after Christmas – the first two months are a blur and then there’s a chance to rest, reflect and practice. Ragland can give WSU more and provide a good complement to Murry at point.As expected, WSU’s depth is a huge benefit. The Shockers survived abundant foul trouble at LSU with Stutz scoring 12 points and Gabe Blair scoring seven with eight rebounds off the bench. Against Tulsa, Stutz scored 20 off the bench. Ben Smith scored eight points, probably his best effort of the season.I enjoyed the atmosphere at IBA. Of course, my experience is different from most fans. From reading messge boards, talking to people and listening to Sports Daily, it seems some people loved it, some are willing to tolerate it and some are not happy with one or more aspects of IBA. For a first-time venture, it appears to have enough going for it that it’s worth repeating. Marshall and the players loved it. From my perspective, it was a great atmosphere and a good night for the arena and the community. I was encouraged that to hear WSU associate athletic director Darron Boatright come on the radio and assure fans that the process is being evaluated and WSU will tweak it as needed. Some fans have issues, and that’s something WSU needs to consider.My one complaint with IBA would be the scoreboard. We’re spoiled now and used to stats on the scoreboard. That needs to change for an NCAA Tournament game.