Bradley and Wichita State don’t share much in common off the court — one private and one a public school. On the court, they appear to be on the same track, with Bradley chasing the Shockers with a similar plan.
Bradley coach Geno Ford talks glowingly about 20th-ranked WSU’s athletic ability and its skill in recruiting. Both teams start their defense with tenacious guards. WSU owns the size and power in the lane that Bradley is working toward. More than any other Missouri Valley Conference team, the Braves most closely resemble the Shockers, especially on defense.
“They like to defend the same, get out and pressure you in the passing lanes and play an up-tempo speed,” WSU guard Fred VanVleet said.
Bradley (12-8, 4-4 MVC) made a strong impression on the Shockers in the earlier meeting a 69-63 WSU win in Peoria. WSU (18-2, 7-1) led 64-63 with under 30 seconds to play. WSU coach Gregg Marshall likes Ford’s coaching style and predicts big things ahead.
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“The creek’s not done rising in Peoria with what he’s doing,” Marshall said. “They’re pretty talented, and they play hard. The last time we played Bradley it came down to a one-possession game and we made three beautiful plays at the end to put the game away.”
Bradley added to that talent since the first meeting. Center Will Egolf, suspended for four games after an arrest for possession of a non-prescription controlled substance, is back. His size and shooting ability makes the Braves a tougher test. He is averaging 8.5 points, making 47.1 percent of his three-pointers, and 5.0 rebounds since returning from the suspension.
“He’s helping them,” Marshall said. “Shooting it, blocking shots, taking charges.”
WSU, which has won 18 straight at Koch Arena, is winning despite some offensive obstacles. The Shockers shot 47 of 125 (37.6 percent) from the field and 9 of 44 (20.5) from three-point range in wins over Creighton and Missouri State. In their six previous MVC games, they shot 46 percent or better in all. Marshall is pleased with his team’s execution and shot selection in the recent games, leaving one solution.
“I know our room for improvement is greater on the offensive side of the ball,” he said.
The Shockers are integrating center Carl Hall, who missed seven games with injury, back into the rotation. His presence calls for more passes to the lane and he is developing a a chemistry with point guard Malcolm Armstead on the pick and roll. Hall is averaging 11.3 points in his three-game return. His shooting percentage of 44.7 is far below his season mark of 54.3.
Bradley won’t be an easy team for the Shockers to raise their shooting numbers against, although they did shoot well in Peoria.
“A lot of times, it’s just making shots,” VanVleet said. “The execution is getting better as the season goes on, as far as the chemistry and a lot of new guys playing together. Guys have got to commit to making themselves personally better on the offensive end, getting the gym and getting up extra shots.”