Wichita State Shockers

College basketball preview: WSU's Murry, Stutz, Kyles look for senior consistency

Three seniors. Three sets of skills. Three incomplete resumes.

By March, Wichita State basketball fans will know if the skills and the resumes are more complete.

Seniors Toure Murry, David Kyles and Garrett Stutz are coach Gregg Marshall's four-year seniors. They are the product of his second recruiting class, the first one to which Marshall could devote a full year to procuring.

They've done a lot. They want to do more this season, individually and as a team.

When they signed in November 2007, Marshall said he was ecstatic about the class (which included junior-college guard Clevin Hannah) and called a Stutz a building block. There is not much room to disagree with that assessment, even if Stutz has played a reserve role to this point. After going 11-20 in 2008 as those three finished high school, WSU is 71-35 with two National Invitation Tournament appearances and last season's title.

Three years later, the trio of lifers are pleased with their work to revive Shocker basketball. They also say their careers will lack something without an NCAA Tournament berth to celebrate on March 11.

"We're trying to do big things," Kyles said. "Last year was cool, but we still haven't completed our goal, which is to get to the tournament."

To get there from the Missouri Valley Conference requires either a four-month run of near-perfection (to secure an at-large spot) or three victories in the conference tournament (to wrap up the automatic bid).

WSU has been close the past two seasons, winning 25 and 24 games before Selection Sunday, finishing second in the MVC both seasons with an RPI rank in the top 60.

Close landed it in New York last season, which wasn't all bad. To avoid another trip to the NIT, the Shockers need to add a measure of consistency to their games, and that's where seniors lead. Murry, Kyles and Stutz don't have to do it alone — guard Joe Ragland and forward Ben Smith are seniors who joined the team last season from junior college.

"If we have the right focus every day, it (the NCAA Tournament) is something that's very obtainable," Stutz said.

Upset losses at Evansville (2010) and to Southern Illinois (2011) hurt WSU's NCAA resume. So did painfully close losses to national champion Connecticut and Virginia Commonwealth last season.

Murry, Kyles and Stutz all want to do more this season, round out their games, make the play or two that makes the difference. Just as important, they need to make sure they and their teammates do it every night to avoid the one loss that could ruin the plan.

"You've got to be unbelievably consistent," Marshall said. "We could have controlled that SIU game, where we didn't play well. And we should have won at least one other game at home. Those are the things you've got to do."

Murry, a 6-foot-5 guard from Houston, is the most consistent of the group. He has started 102 of 106 games the past three seasons.

He started his career as a scorer, averaging 11 points as a freshman. Since then, his defense and rebounding made him one of the MVC's most versatile players. He even helps out at point guard when needed.

"He's worked really hard this summer," Marshall said. "He saw a lot of guys he played against, and played well against last year, have success in the NBA Draft. I think he would like to emulate some of that."

Worrisome are his shooting percentages, which declined from 42.4 percent and 33.1 percent (three-pointers) to 40.7 and 28.3. He is a willing passer (his 125 assists led WSU) whose assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.26 ranked sixth in the MVC.

"He needs to shoot it more consistently, at a higher percentage, and cut down on his turnovers," Marshall said. "He does so many good things on the court, with his on-the-ball defense, his rebounding, his driving, getting to the foul line."

Murry led the Shockers in the weight room and on the track during preseason conditioning. His time of 4 minutes, 45 seconds in the mile set a program record. He emphasized leg strength, believing it will help him get lower and stronger in his defensive stance.

"I think last year, a lot of times, I got fatigued," Murry said. "Fighting over screens, that's a toughness you have in your legs."

Kyles took the longest of the group to contribute. He spent early seasons battling with Marshall, who wanted him to play harder and work harder in practice. It wasn't uncommon to see him running the steps in Koch Arena for a missed class.

"He had a hard time completely buying into the work and the effort that went into practices," Marshall said. "He' s much, much better now."

Kyles, a 6-foot-4 guard from Dallas, led WSU in scoring through non-conferences games last season. His productivity slipped in MVC games when defenses focused on taking away his outside shot. He took 190 of his 282 shots from three-point range and rarely got to the foul line.

"I don't want to be such a perimeter shooter," Kyles said. "If I wasn't shooting threes, I wasn't shooting that much."

Kyles, who made 39.5 percent of his threes, wants to drive more and draw more fouls. If he can add a mid-range danger to his game, defenses are in trouble.

"He shoots the ball as well as anyone we have," Marshall said. "He can get on a streak like very few people can."

Stutz, a 7-foot center from Kansas City, Mo., is the irreplaceable man on the team. No other big man can approach his combination of experience and talent. An injury would be devastating.

Stutz can't control that. He can control fouls. When he is on the court, he is almost always productive. Too often, however, foul trouble limits his minutes. Without J.T. Durley, Gabe Blair and Aaron Ellis around, Stutz must stay on the court for long stretches.

He improved his shooting percentage from 47.1 percent to 48.3 percent to 53.6 percent. He makes free throws at a 70-percent clip and makes enough three-pointers to keep defenses on edge.

That is a player WSU wants in the game. But he's never averaged more than 16.5 minutes.

"I know I can't help the team if I'm not on the floor," Stutz said. "It's up to me to keep me on the floor as long as possible and have productive minutes."

Stutz is stronger and more mobile. He is also more experienced, which should help him avoid whistles.

"Freshmen year, I got so many cheap, little fouls — just immaturity and stupidity," he said. "As you get older, you figure out what the refs look at and call more. You know what you can get away with."

Murry, Kyles and Stutz are about to start the final season of their four-year investment in WSU basketball.

"We accomplished a lot," Murry said. "This year, our goal is to get to the NCAA Tournament to top off what we've done."

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