Whether coach Gregg Marshall likes it or not, Wichita State is playing “pretty” basketball better than it has in his 11 seasons at the helm.
After dishing out 24 assists on 33 baskets in a 95-74 win over Connecticut over the weekend, No. 19 Wichita State (19-5, 9-3 American) now ranks in the top five in the country in both assists per game (third at 19.2) and assist percentage (fourth at 64.6 percent) entering Thursday’s game against Temple (15-10, 7-6) at Koch Arena.
“I’m not into that,” Marshall said. “It’s not something I want to coach — ‘pretty basketball’ — but it is a thing to marvel at sometimes the way they share it and the way the ball moves side to side. A really good shot they give it up for a great shot. It’s rare when they don’t improve the quality of the shot with that extra one pass.”
The benefits have been undeniable.
Better ball movement and that unselfishness in making the extra pass has led to a consistent stream of high-quality shots. WSU’s offense is generating 1.14 points per possession, ninth-best in the nation, and shooting 55.5 effective field goal percentage, a measure that accounts for threes being worth an extra point — both would be the best marks in the Marshall era.
Another best in the Marshall era? The team’s assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.62, which ranks fifth nationally.
“We’ve got a lot of unselfish guys and nobody cares who is scoring,” said Landry Shamet, who averages a team-high 5.2 assists. “We just want a good open look every time and I think that shows. The ball is flying around and the right guys are getting the right shots at the right time.”
Hunting for a “great” shot, instead of a “good” one, is a constant theme in practice and something players say assistant Donnie Jones constantly harps on. It’s a mindset that is built in practice and carries over into games, as WSU has finished with at least 20 assists in nine games this season.
“We’ve really bought into that,” WSU guard Conner Frankamp said of finding great shots. “It’s really helped us out and we’re getting the open looks and passing up good shots for great shots.”
Not only does WSU have the necessary ball movement to find the open shot, but also the shooters to knock it down. For knock-down shooters like Shamet, Frankamp, and Austin Reaves, that extra half-second the right pass gives them is all they need to bury the shot.
It creates a trickle-down effect when two, if not all three of those players are on the floor.
Suddenly the center, Shaquille Morris in most cases, has more room to operate in the low post. A player like Rashard Kelly can freelance more. When he’s not serving as the facilitator at the free-throw line, then Kelly has more clear paths to go chase offensive rebounds.
“It’s really difficult to guard us because we spread the court so well,” Marshall said.
“You’ve got to respect us on the perimeter and that really opens things up,” Shamet added. “It’s obviously a really good weapon.”
That’s easy for Marshall and his players to say. It’s another thing to try to defend it as an opponent.
“That ball is not stopping,” Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie said after his team’s 21-point loss. “You have to make third- and fourth-effort plays against them and we didn’t do that tonight.”