Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall thinks his team's defensive decline in the 2017-18 season was rooted in its struggles to contain dribble penetration, and he has recruited with that in mind this past year.
The Shockers will be one of the most inexperienced teams in the country next season, but Marshall has stockpiled players with athleticism and length in a massive 2018 recruiting class.
Enter Ricky Torres (6-foot-3), Erik Stevenson (6-4), Jamarius Burton (6-5), Dexter Dennis (6-5) and Chance Moore (6-7), who will join Rod Brown (6-6) and Markis McDuffie (6-8) as long and athletic options who can defend multiple positions on the perimeter for WSU. While Samajae Haynes-Jones (6-0) doesn't have the size of that group, he is the quickest on the team.
"We're going to be young, but we're going to be bigger and we're going to be more athletic," Marshall said on the Drive radio show, hosted by Bob and Jeff Lutz, on Wednesday. "Hopefully we'll be able to guard a little better on the perimeter. We kind of lost our ability to keep the ball in front, and I think our defensive numbers showed that with this last group."
WSU allowed 71.6 points per game in the 2017-18 season, which was up more than nine points from the previous season. The advanced metrics also indicated a steep decline in WSU's defense, as it fell from No. 13 in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency measure to No. 111 in 2017-18, WSU's worst finish since the 2008-09 team ranked 120th during a 17-17 season.
Marshall said on the Drive that WSU's defense struggled to adjust to the bigger, more athletic and more skilled guards in the American Athletic Conference.
"The athleticism and size and talent in the American Athletic Conference, player for player, is a notch, if not a notch and a half, above what we were seeing," Marshall said. "Most of the guys on the roster were recruited as Missouri Valley guys, and we were undermanned in a couple of instances against certain teams.
"We needed to upgrade our talent level, and we had the opportunity to bring in some long, athletic young men that we think have great potential and talent. Several of them not only do we think, but at least a couple are going to have to play right away and be successful for our program to stay at the same level."
While opponents were able to get in the lane easier against WSU in 2017-18, that didn't mean it attempted more shots at the rim. What it did result in for opponents was significantly higher shooting percentages and more kick-out three-pointers.
According to Hoop-Math.com, opponents took fewer shots at the rim than the previous season but shot 5 percent higher (53.9) against WSU in 2017-18. Opponents also took a three on 40 percent of their shots (23 per game), which was the 77th-highest three-point rate allowed in the country, and made 36.3 percent of them, which is 5 percent better than the previous season.
Adding a wealth of talent, athleticism and length should certainly help WSU solve some of its defensive woes. Stevenson and Burton are long and athletic for guards, Dennis and Brown have explosive athleticism, and Moore and McDuffie both have lanky frames to disrupt guards.
Marshall is counting on the upgrade in athleticism to return WSU to the formidable defense it has played under Marshall for much of the last decade.
"They really struggled to stop the ball and contain dribble penetration last year, so now he brings in these long, rangy guards, and that's really going to help a lot," Rivals recruiting analyst Corey Evans said. "There's not a stiff, non-athlete in the bunch. They're all good, fluid athletes who can move laterally and vertically. I could see any of those guys developing into a really good perimeter defender."