Nothing puts the stops to a good scoring run better than the Missouri Valley Conference schedule.
Wichita State scored 70 or more points in 10 of its 14 games against non-conference opponents last season. In 21 games against MVC opponents, it broke 70 points eight times.
The Shockers (9-2) are again scoring plenty of points — 70 or more in nine games and averaging 75.4. Starting Wednesday against Evansville, points will become a lot more precious. MVC teams don't give up many layups or open lanes to the basket. It can be ugly, yet effective.
"Get your body armor out," WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. "Get your football helmets out."
Part of the change is style of play — the MVC seems to attract defensive-minded coaches willing to play first-one-to-60 wins. Part of the change is familiarity.
"Everybody knows each other's personnel and plays," WSU junior Toure Murry said. "So you've got to find other ways to score."
Evansville (6-4) exemplifies the MVC quagmire. The Aces, who finished last in the MVC last season, split games with second-place WSU, winning 65-62 and losing 76-70 in overtime. In 2008-09, WSU split games and didn't score more than 52 points in either. The Aces are guaranteed to make things ugly with their man-to-man defense. They do their utmost to disrupt the timing of WSU's offense. Their helping defense can be frustrating — an Ace always seems to be planted near the basket and willing to take a charge.
"They always knock you off your cuts," Murry said.
The Shocker newcomers spent the past two months adjust to Division I basketball. Now another change awaits. The veterans are warning them.
"Teams know you, and they scout you very well," junior Joe Ragland said. "They know everything you're comfortable doing, and they know your weaknesses."
The Shockers returned from a four-day break to practice Sunday night. They practiced twice on Monday. His top concern is tightening WSU's defense. The Shockers, even in MVC play, possess enough offensive weapons to get by. Marshall wants the Shockers to toughen their defense, while still pushing the basketball. When he hears his players say that it's difficult to score fast and buckle down on defense, he boils a little.
"When you push the ball up, and this is just my opinion, you get a little less diligent in your mind-set every possession defensively," he said. "That's an excuse. Really great players do both. Guys like (Michael) Jordan — he was a pretty good scorer. He was also defensive player of the year."
The Shockers won several shootouts in the non-conference schedule. They finished up the pre-Christmas portion of the schedule with a 70-69 win over LSU and an 82-79 win over Tulsa.
"We need to try to put more effort into defense, make it the No. 1 priority," junior forward Ben Smith said.
WSU, which received 17 votes in the Associated Press top 25, supported its status as pre-season MVC favorite in the first two months. Its two losses (No. 4 Connecticut and No. 7 San Diego State) are no cause for alarm.
CollegeRPI.com ranks WSU's strength of schedule No. 100, behind only No. 90 Northern Iowa among MVC schools. The nine victories revealed WSU owns the depth and talent to survive the 18-game MVC round robin.
"We've got a target on our backs," Murry said. "We've got to play defense. We've got to come out every night."