Wichita State basketball went to the Sweet 16 in 2006 without a backup center. When Paul Miller sat, the Shockers went small with 6-foot-5 Ryan Martin replacing him.
So a team can win big without depth. WSU coach Gregg Marshall knows it's easier to win with it. WSU starts men's basketball practices tonight with a roster that stretches on and on. Marshall can choose from five seniors and five juniors as a starting point for his lineup.
"Knowing that they have to produce while they're in there, otherwise there's somebody else pretty good, will certainly help guys push themselves," Marshall said. "That should carry over into games."
With eight of his top nine scorers back, plus three junior college transfers, Marshall wants to use that depth to wear down opponents. The Shockers may speed up the tempo more than in previous seasons.
"We'll try to use our depth, so we may try to play a little faster," Marshall said. "We may try to extend more defensively. But you win championships in the halfcourt."
WSU returns four starters and all four will likely be in the starting lineup when the season starts. It won't take much of a slip for somebody else to grab minutes away. WSU's corps of big men may eventually set it apart from the rest of the Missouri Valley Conference. For starters, Marshall can choose from seniors J.T. Durley, Aaron Ellis, a possible redshirt candidate, and Gabe Blair and junior center Garrett Stutz. Sophomore center Ehimen Orukpe and redshirt freshman Jerome Hamilton, when healthy, are also available.
Nobody can coast through a practice.
"It makes you more mentally tough," Blair said. "You're going to have to put yourself out there a little more to be better than the next man, or you're going to fall below."
There are plenty of Shockers, and plenty of them who can race up and down the floor. Blair and Ellis are speedy enough to blow by other big men. Durley and Stutz won't do that often, but they can serve as the trailer on the break and make three-pointers. There is no shortage of speed and hustle with forward Graham Hatch and guards Toure Murry and David Kyles.
"That fits everybody's personalities, too, and how they play," Murry said. "Everybody can put the ball on the floor. Press and run and shoot the ball. That's everybody's dream to play in a system like that."
Point guards Demetric Williams and Joe Ragland are quick enough to guard full-court and push the ball on offense.
"They can get the ball up the court and put pressure on the defense," Murry said. "They can get us shots and open up the paint for the big men to go to work."
Many teams talk about playing fast before the season. Often, those plans fade as the reality of the grind hits. Missouri Valley Conference teams aren't going to let the Shockers run wild. Playing solid, smart half-court basketball will always be important.
However the Shockers play, Marshall will have plenty of options every time he looks down his bench.
"I've always got somebody able, ready to come in if you get tired or get in foul trouble," Marshall said. "The luxury this year will be even greater."