In 2015-16, Wichita State proved volume can out-weigh accuracy to produce scoring.
The Shockers made 42.9 percent of their shots and 32.4 percent of their three-pointers, depths not seen since the early days of coach Gregg Marshall’s previous nine seasons. They performed as an offense because 14.8 percent of their possessions ended in turnovers, the 10th-lowest rate in the nation, and their elite defense forced enough turnovers to create easy baskets and win the possession battle.
For the season, WSU took 309 more shots than its opponents, the largest disparity of the Marshall era, surpassing the 212-shot margin in 2014-15. Taking almost nine more shots a game more than opponents can cover up poor shooting stretches.
WSU committed 196 fewer turnovers than opponents, so thank you to Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker for controlling 40 minutes of action in ways rarely done before at WSU. It’s worth remembering that a stretch of four non-conference games, three of them losses, played without VanVleet pulled down WSU’s shooting numbers.
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That explains why Conner Frankamp is the starting point for figuring out how the Shockers score this season, minus two of the best offensive players in program history. Like VanVleet, Frankamp is a careful steward of the ball — five turnovers in 479 minutes last season — and Marshall will always choose low-turnover basketball as the foundation for winning.
Frankamp’s challenge is to add more creativity to his game, to score and help others score, while remaining careful with the ball. In geographic terms, he needs to be more of a threat to get to the basket, instead of running the offense side to side.
“Fred was north-south; he was going toward that basket,” Marshall said. “(Frankamp’s) an east-west guy right now. Conner doesn’t take a whole lot of chances. He’s very conservative.”
Others will help at point guard.
The next issue is outside shooting. The roster lacks proven three-point threats. Frankamp made 35 percent of his threes last season, when he rarely played point and enjoyed the setup services of VanVleet and Baker. Zach Brown dropped from 42.3 percent as a freshman to 30.6 percent as a sophomore. Markis McDuffie started hot from behind the arc before making 11 of 45 in his final 24 games to finish at 31.5 percent.
“I think we’re a better shooting team than we were last year,” Brown said. “There’s a lot of guys who have been in the gym a whole lot — me, Markis, Rashard (Kelly), Daishon (Smith) can shoot.”
Brown went on, listing more and more and teammates. That’s expected. If he is correct, the Shockers will indeed be an improved shooting team, a necessary trait for a team that can’t count on a superior defense or overwhelming turnover margins..
The Shockers used presses to great effect during its exhibition tour in Canada and Marshall may use that tactic more frequently than in past seasons. WSU’s depth and athletic ability make it well-suited to make ballhandlers uncomfortable. The Shockers like playing fast and their guards and wings own the speed to beat other teams down the floor for open shots.
“Once we get our defense down and knowing where to be … offense is going to flow, almost without thinking about it,” Brown said. “We’ve got a lot more people who can make plays off the bounce and a lot more people who can move.”
Frankamp and Smith will lead WSU’s point guards and they offer a nice package of off-setting skills.
Frankamp knows the system after almost two years of practice and is the kind of shooter defenses must respect. Nobody is going to sag off Frankamp or go under screens against him. That should give the Shockers room to move and the offense becomes more dangerous if Frankamp penetrates and uses his floater.
In Canada, Frankamp showed more physical play on defense. If he wants to be a true two-way player, he must fight through screens and pester the opposition as much as possible. Teams like to target him and if he can show increased resistance early in the season, he may dissuade that tactic.
Smith is a blur who will run the offense with drives and dishes. He proved to be an adequate outside shooter in the four games in Canada. Freshman Austin Reaves plays both guard spots, although his progress is slowed by shoulder injuries and a slight build. He is impressive in practices, both for his skills and his willingness to take on veterans.
“For a freshman, he’s brave, he’s tough,” Kelly said. “He always puts his nose in plays and he’s not afraid of competition.”
Redshirt freshman Landry Shamet can help at point, but will play shooting guard. Expectations are high for Shamet, who was on his way to rotation minutes last season before a stress fracture in his left foot ended his season in mid-November. In Canada, Shamet showed good skills driving and scoring and will likely be one of WSU’s top options as the shot clock runs down. His length and athletic ability will make him a strong defender.
“All I’ve been thinking about is playing,” Shamet said. “I just want to play. Whatever achievements and accolades come along with that, I’ll be happy with. I just want to help win games and doing everything I can do in order for us to be a good team.”
Freshman C.J. Keyser missed all of summer practices and much of the fall with foot injuries. If healthy, his primary role may be as a defensive spark off the bench. Senior J.R. Simon is available to settle things down in case of foul trouble or injury. He’s played in 64 games the past three seasons.
Wichita State’s presence in and around the lane depends on junior center Shaq Morris.
If he can play 24 to 28 minutes a game, avoiding foul trouble, the Shockers will enjoy a offensive fulcrum and a shot-blocker. With Morris in the game, guards will get more open shots. Morris’ ability to catch the ball on the move and jump quickly, without pausing to gather himself or dribble, is a rare asset for large human beings.
“He’s been more dominant in the paint than in previous years,” Kelly said. “He really worked on his body this summer and I give (strength coach) Kerry (Rosenboom) a lot of credit for the transformation he did.”
McDuffie, last season’s Missouri Valley Conference Freshman of the Year, is poised for a star turn. Whether he plays small forward, as he did last season, or spends some time at power forward, his skills should make him a key player. He grew into a defensive stopper last season and showed bursts of impressive offense — such as 13 points on 4-of-5 three-point shooting against Alabama and 16 points on 8-of-9 shooting at Missouri State.
Brown started 31 games last season and is a veteran of two good NCAA Tournament runs. He thrived in Canada by driving and drawing fouls, a skill that should complement his outside shooting. Kelly is WSU’s best team defender and should provide a steady, consistent effort to help the newcomers. He has played in 70 games, with 10 starts, the past two seasons and is the only returner to play in every game the past two seasons.
Junior Rauno Nurger and junior newcomer Darral Willis will help Morris at center. Willis should grow into a larger role as he learns WSU’s system and demands. Sophomore Eric Hamilton is best-served as an energy guy off the bench.