Wichita State’s Chadrack Lufile knows other teams are watching video and he knows it’s his job to put fear in their minds.
“I really want to give people a second thought about coming into the lane,” he said. “I’m here.”
The fourth-ranked Shockers give opposing shooters plenty of reason to think before they drive to the rim. WSU (21-0, 8-0 Missouri Valley Conference) is blocking shots at a record pace, a key part of its lockdown defense. The Shockers, who play MVC newcomer Loyola (8-12, 3-5) on Tuesday, lead the conference with an average of 4.9 blocks a game to rank 54th nationally.
WSU can pass the 1964-65 team, which went 8-0 before losing at Tulsa, for the best start in program history with a win.
WSU is on pace, with 102 blocks in 21 games, to break last season’s school record of 177. Last season’s team averaged 4.5 a game, tying it with the 1979-80 team for most per game. Those are the only two to average more than four a game.
Three Shockers rank in the Valley’s top 10 for blocks per game and it is that depth of rim-protectors other teams can’t match. Lufile and Kadeem Coleby both have 19 blocks and Cleanthony Early has 17. Guard Ron Baker, the master of the sneak-up-from-behind block, has 14. Forward Darius Carter has 11.
The Shocker perimeter players are solid, rarely giving up easy drives or open shots. Beat them and larger obstacles await, which is why teams are shooting 39.1 percent against WSU, best in the MVC and 25th nationally.
“In our league, there aren’t a lot of teams that have second-line size and explosiveness to go shot-challenge you at the white square,” Bradley coach Geno Ford said after the Shockers blocked seven shots in a win earlier this month. “When you do get it down and you beat the press and you can kind of attack them, they’ve got guys that can erase them.”
The Shocker guards enjoy the comfort of knowing that when they allow a drive, big men await.
“If you know you might be beat, on the dribble, I know I don’t need to foul them,” Baker said. “You definitely rely on it. If you’re completely beat, you can take the big man’s guy. It’s kind of a ‘You help me, I’ll help you’ situation.”
Lufile takes the intimidation factor seriously, maybe a little too seriously. His wind-up swing, before going for the block, is going to draw extra attention from officials. He watched the video of last week’s win over Illinois State and scared himself with the way he swung ferociously.
“I watched the game, and the way I swung at him, that was too aggressive,” he said. “I kind of played with a little too much aggression and anger and I’m trying to calm myself.”
WSU coach Gregg Marshall likes the passion, in proper amounts.
“Most of the time it’s great,” Marshall said. “Occasionally, it works to his detriment. The one time he tries to block the shot, the kid is falling down and has no chance to make the shot, but he goes ahead and chops down on him.”
Loyola will get its first look at WSU and its shot-blockers and its first look at Koch Arena during its debut tour of the MVC. The school joined the MVC in April after Creighton departed for the Big East. Picked ninth, the Ramblers own at least two eye-catching wins, an 89-57 demolition of Missouri State and Saturday’s 93-87 win over Northern Iowa in overtime.
Early honored by MVC — Early was named MVC player of the week for the second time this season, Early, a 6-foot-8 forward, averaged 21 points and 8.5 rebounds in wins over Illinois State and Drake last week. He made 15 of 24 shots and 9 of 13 three-pointers. It is the fifth time 12 weeks for a Shocker to receive that recognition.
Shockers move up again — Wichita State moved up one spot to No. 4 in the Associated Press men’s basketball top 25 on Monday.
The Shockers are one of three unbeaten teams nationally. Florida (17-2) jumped to No. 3 from No. 6 after Saturday’s 67-41 win over Tennessee. The Gators passed WSU by one point in the poll of writers and broadcasters, 1,436 to 1,435.
No. 1 Arizona (20-0) and No. 2 Syracuse (19-0) remained in the top two spots.
Wichita State also moved up one spot to No. 3 in the coaches poll administered by USA Today. Arizona and Syracuse top that poll.
WSU’s No. 4 ranking is its highest since it spent one week at No. 2, in the Dec. 29, 1981 poll.