The 2011 Shockers join the 2005 and 1989 teams as senior-laden teams predicted to do big things and settled for the NIT.
In the case of this season, the MVC Tournament gave us a refresher course on WSU’s weaknesses. The Shockers can’t score against good teams with a sound defense who play physical and limit easy baskets. That’s not easy to do, and the Shockers put up plenty of points on most nights. But against the Missouri States of the world, it got tough. Indiana State made it tough on Saturday in the MVC Tournament semifinal. The Shockers don’t have players who create their own shots easily. J.T. Durley can. Joe Ragland can on occasion. David Kyles seems like he should be able to more than he does. For the most part, the Shockers need the ball when they’re open. You don’t often see a Shocker guard pump fake at the arc and drive in for a 12-foot jumper. The Shockers need fast-break points to minimize that problem.
Indiana State kept WSU out of the lane. The Shocker outside shooters clanked. Defense, even for the best teams, gets harder to play when shots aren’t falling.“I think we had a bunch of good looks,” WSU forward Gabe Blair said. “Once you stop making shots, sometimes you can relax on defense at that time because you’re a little frustrated.”WSU will play in the NIT, and its 32-game resume says that is where the Shockers belong. WSU didn’t beat an NCAA at-large quality team all season. You can argue bad fortune in scheduling and a lack of opportunities. That doesn’t change the resume. It’s not good enough.
It’s hard to hear now, with the disappointment fresh, that 24-8 and the NIT is a good season for WSU. It’s not the season players, coaches and fans wanted.
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I thought WSU’s depth would pay off on Sunday in the MVC Tournament. It met a team just as deep which played better. Sycamores center Myles Walker was the best big man on the floor, even with J.T. Durley recording 18 points and 11 rebounds. Indiana Sate guard Jake Odum committed five turnovers, but made a bunch of big plays and controlled the game. Missed shots spoiled good things WSU’s guards did.
The question that loomed all season was about WSU’s depth? Did coach Gregg Marshall play too many people? I think not. WSU won 24 games, so the approach worked for the most part. Other than Durley, the other Shockers were too up and down. Who do you play? Who do you sit? It changed from game to game.
If it’s any consolation Indiana State coach Greg Lansing thinks WSU and Missouri State are NCAA-quality teams. Of course, he has to say that. “I think both Missouri State and Wichita State are both terrific and very deserving teams,” Lansing said Sunday. “Those teams are NCAA Tournament teams.”WSU’s 10-man rotation worked, until it didn’t. MSU’s seven-man rotation did the same. There are likely Bears fans out there wondering why coach Cuonzo Martin didn’t develop more depth during the regular season.If MSU doesn’t earn one of 37 at-large bids, it will be a black, black day for the MVC. To have its 15-3 regular-season champion punted, along with WSU at 24-8 and 14-4, sends a bad message. It should be an interesting coaches meeting this spring. If I were Gregg Marshall and Cuonzo Martin, I would expect teams to pick up their non-conference scheduling. WSU, with the MVC’s best non-conference SOS, certainly has a gripe. The Shockers try to schedule. This season, some MVC teams didn’t. Everybody is paying a price.The NIT Bracket Project has WSU a No. 1 seed playing Dayton. It will be interesting to see how fans respond to the NIT. A lot of hopes were dashed on Saturday. The 2005 Shockers, who followed a similar path, revived their season with two NIT wins.Jim Les fired at Bradley. Not a big surprise. Les and his team hung tough through injuries this season. Ultimately, his track record said it wasn’t working. My observation is that Bradley is a program that should do more. Good location. Good support. Good tradition.