A valuable lesson can be had from Wichita State’s 70-54 loss at VCU on Dec. 22, a game in which the Shockers committed 17 turnovers on a season-high 27 percent of possessions.
Film study was rough. The guards had to relive moments they wish they could have back. WSU too often wilted under the waves of pressure VCU sent in the halfcourt. The ball stuck and didn’t move crisply.
But now that the Shockers (7-5) have experienced that kind of pressure and studied their mistakes, they hope to be more prepared for the pressure Memphis (8-5) is expected to bring in front of 15,000-plus fans at the FedEx Forum for Thursday’s 8:30 p.m. tip-off, broadcast on CBS Sports Network.
“We’ve got to do a better job of taking care of the ball,” WSU senior Markis McDuffie said. “I thought we did that in the first half (against VCU), but we got away from it in the second half. That game can be a learning lesson. I think these guys are starting the new year off right and we’re going into Memphis with some urgency.”
It’s certainly an important swing game for WSU, especially with the Shockers playing arguably the four best teams in the American Athletic Conference their next four games. If WSU wants to finish in the top half of the conference, a road win at Memphis would boost its chance.
But any road win will be crucial to this WSU team and taking down Memphis on its home court will be one of the season’s toughest challenges. The hiring of Penny Hardaway has brought to life the Memphis fan base and restored home-court advantage to the FedEx Forum.
Memphis fans also have an exciting brand to cheer for, as the Tigers are playing at the ninth-fastest pace in the country, per KenPom.com. They dart around the court, often take the first look at a shot, then send waves of pressure to try to force a turnover and jump-start a fast break going the other way.
WSU assistant coach Lou Gudino is handling the scouting report and has told the players that WSU’s offense can be its best defense, meaning if it takes care of the basketball, it can prevent Memphis from finding baskets where it thrives in transition.
“They are playing really hard and fast,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “I like the way they are getting up and down the court, and they are really getting after it defensively, doing some run-and-jump and pressure. (Hardaway) has got what looks like a good group of athletes, and they are playing really hard for him.”
A pressing question for WSU is the health of its rotating cast of centers.
Jaime Echenique, the team’s starter, went down with a foot injury late in the first half of WSU’s loss at VCU, but that was 12 days ago. Despite the break, Marshall said Wednesday that Echenique has yet to practice fully since the team regrouped following the holiday break and will be a game-time decision against Memphis.
“He’s working hard with the trainers,” Marshall said. “He’s over on the side shooting and trying to move and do all the rehab stuff that you are supposed to do with that type of injury.”
WSU’s next option, Morris Udeze, tweaked his shoulder injury earlier this week and missed Tuesday’s practice. Udeze did return to practice Wednesday, but should be able to play along with Isaiah Poor Bear-Chandler and Asbjorn Midtgaard at center.
This is a compelling matchup off the court with the past of WSU coach Gregg Marshall and Memphis freshman Alex Lomax. Lomax originally signed with WSU as its point guard of the future, but Marshall released him from his letter of intent in March to join his mentor and coach Penny Hardaway.
WSU went on to replace Lomax with junior-college All-American Ricky Torres and it also opened the door for WSU to pursue Teddy Allen, the West Virginia transfer who is sitting out this season but could be WSU’s best player next season. Meanwhile, Lomax has started 10 of 13 games at Memphis and is averaging 6.5 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.3 steals.
“He just making winning plays; he’s a winner,” Marshall said of Lomax. “He gets on the floor for loose balls. He plays really hard. He’s not shooting it great, but we’ve got a couple of guards that aren’t shooting it great either. He’s a floor general. He’s a guy that’s going to help your team win.”
Wichita State (7-5) at Memphis (8-5)
When: 8:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: FedEx Forum, Memphis, Tenn.
TV: CBS Sports Network (643 on UVerse, 260 on Cox, 221 on DirecTV, 158 on DISH)
Radio: 103.7-FM, KEYN