You may have watched Wichita State’s 71-58 loss to Louisiana Tech at Koch Arena on Tuesday night, but here are 10 things you might not have noticed that didn’t necessarily show up in the box score.
1. WSU’s offense produced enough clean looks to get the job done. The Shockers shot 37 percent from the field and 28 percent from beyond the arc, but reviewing the game tape shows some of those misses were on open looks. By my count, WSU went 0 for 7 on wide open three-pointers and on the whole WSU’s offense generated clean looks on about 40 percent of its attempts. That’s a great mark to operate at, especially for such a young team. Gregg Marshall hinted in Monday’s news conference his team wasn’t consistently knocking down open looks in practice and that translated to Tuesday’s game. The Shockers’ offensive efficiency (0.78 points per possession) was sunk by an 0-for-14 performance on shots that were either heavily rushed or contested.
2. It was the worst free throw-shooting performance by WSU in a decade. When is the last time the Shockers missed more than half of their free throws on at least 20 attempts? Nov. 19, 2008 when WSU shot 11 of 24 (45.8 percent) from the foul line against UMKC. Oh yeah, the Shockers lost that game (66-63) at home too. As a refresher, WSU was 11 for 26 (42.3 percent) from the charity stripe against Louisiana Tech.
3. The Shockers had a window to rally midway through the second half, but missed it. The Roundhouse reached its peak on opening night in the second half when Erik Stevenson delivered his fourth three-pointer of the game to cut Louisiana Tech’s lead to 47-41 with more than 15 minutes to play in the second half. All of the first-half struggles were a distant memory. Fans were engaged. All the Shockers had to do was ride that wave of momentum. The defense even did its part, producing four straight stops following that Stevenson shot. But take a look at what happened over the course of WSU’s next three offensive possessions: miss, two free throw misses, miss, turnover, turnover. Jaime Echenique did make two free throws to cut the deficit to 47-43, but La Tech scored on back-to-back possessions to push the lead out to 52-43. And just like that, WSU’s opportunity to make a run at the lead evaporated.
4. The inexperience showed up the most on defense in transition. It wasn’t necessarily fast breaks WSU had a difficult time defending. It was on misses when Louisiana Tech would push the ball upcourt and look for a shot in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock. WSU was rarely at a numbers disadvantage, but its younger players didn’t always communicate on the court when caught in cross switches. As a result, too many times a WSU defender would be lost in no man’s land watching a Louisiana Tech player hoist a wide-open shot. By my count, the Bulldogs were able to shoot wide open 18 times -- the majority of them coming early in the shot clock.
5. Jaime Echenique helped raise WSU’s offense by a startling amount. After failing to make an impact in the exhibition game, the 6-foot-11 junior college transfer from Colombia was WSU’s best player against Louisiana Tech. His impact was obvious by his eight points, seven rebounds, two blocks and plus-7 (only one of two WSU players with a positive plus-minus). He is great as a roller after setting a screen and he was solid in pick-and-roll defense. But his impact can be seen even more by the advanced numbers. WSU scored 1.04 PPP on the 23 offensive possessions Echenique played and 0.67 PPP in the other 51 possessions. While not all of the credit can go to Echenique, that disparity does suggest WSU benefits with his mobility and size at center.
6. The seniors have to be better about shot selection on offense. Samajae Haynes-Jones and Markis McDuffie have drawn rave reviews from WSU coaches in the preseason, but that didn’t translate to Tuesday’s season-opener. Haynes-Jones and McDuffie both were still pressing on the offensive end, as their jump shots weren’t connecting. By my count, the duo took nine combined shots that I graded as poor quality (either rushed or heavily contested). On the 49 offensive possessions the two seniors played together, WSU’s offensive efficiency cratered to 0.63 PPP. The Shockers can’t afford those two to combine for 15 points on 24 shots. A positive is that McDuffie is finding clean looks when he slips screens and pops to the perimeter. Those shots should eventually start to fall. Haynes-Jones also was more aggressive attacking the basket and had his share of open looks. I suspect that missing open looks is causing these two to press on offense and once those shots start dropping, the rushed shots will go down dramatically.
7. WSU played one-third of the game with only one player on the court with Division I experience. That’s the type of inexperience Marshall is dealing with this season. There are going to be a lot of times this season when WSU is playing lineups like this that are all out there learning on-the-go at the same time. The Shockers even played two minutes of the game with all five of their players on the floor being new to this level. There will be growing pains.
8. At least for now, Marshall appears locked into playing three guards, a small-ball four and one post. Marshall went with this lineup combination for 38 of 40 minutes against Louisiana Tech and only veered away from it to play four guards together. After playing two posts in a traditional lineup the majority of the time last season, Marshall has shifted to a smaller lineup this season. A lot of that is due to the team only having four posts and all four (Echenique, Asbjorn Midtgaard, Morris Udeze and Isaiah Poor Bear-Chandler) being inexperienced. Maybe that changes as the season progresses and more than one of those posts can earn the trust of Marshall. But until then, it looks like it’s going to be a heavy dose of McDuffie and 6-6 Rod Brown at power forward.
9. Jamarius Burton was just the third true freshman to start an opener in Marshall’s 12 years. The North Carolina native joined Demetric Williams (in 2008) and Toure’ Murry (in 2007) as the only other true freshman to earn the starting nod on opening nod from Marshall. Landry Shamet (in 2016) and Ron Baker (in 2012) also started season-openers as freshmen, but it was after a redshirt season. Burton was solid in his debut with six points, three rebounds, five assists, four turnovers and a steal in 22 minutes.
10. Asbjorn Midtgaard can help this team as a rim protector. While the two missed bunnies underneath sure do leave a sour taste, Midtgaard actually turned in an excellent defensive performance against Louisiana Tech. The 7-foot sophomore anchored WSU’s defense in the paint, where he contested six shots at the rim and forced five misses. His finest moment came early in the game when he slid over to volleyball spike a shot attempt by Louisiana Tech’s DaQuan Bracey off of him out of bounds. It’s still a question mark of how much Midtgaard can play against smaller, faster centers and he’s questionable in pick-and-roll defense, but Midtgaard showed his value to WSU’s defense on Tuesday with his rim protection.