Taylor Eldridge with the lone bright spot in WSU’s road loss at Memphis
It’s been nine years since the last time Wichita State lost its conference opener and also lost four games by double-digits in a season.
That double whammy became a reality for the Shockers late Thursday evening, as they lost 85-74 to Memphis at the FedEx Forum in Memphis, their first game in the American Athletic Conference this season.
There’s a lot to dig into from the game, but if you want to cut to the heart of WSU’s problems, here are five plays that encapsulate what went wrong for the Shockers on Thursday.
This 15-second sequence is a snapshot of the differing philosophies each team had.
On WSU’s possession, point guard Samajae Haynes-Jones dribbles into a contested three-pointer two seconds after passing halfcourt without even looking at a pass.
The rebound goes to Memphis freshman Alex Lomax and instead of settling for a jumper, he goes into attack mode and charges at a back-pedaling Haynes-Jones, side-steps him and floats it into the basket.
For the game, WSU took jumpers on two-thirds of its shots; Memphis took two-third of its shots in the paint. Much of that had to do with the mindsets of the guards.
There’s nothing wrong here with Jamarius Burton taking the ball screen from Jaime Echenique, probing the defense, identifying the big man has dropped in his pick-and-roll coverage and kicking out top to Markis McDuffie.
But it’s emblematic of bigger issues with how WSU attacks.
McDuffie is too quick to pull the trigger on a contested three and the rebound starts a Memphis break, which shows the difference in mentality between the Memphis guards and the WSU guards.
Memphis’ Kareem Brewton turns the corner in transition and goes into attack mode. Was he a little out of control? Yes. But he was the aggressor and he forced the issue. He’s not always going to get the foul call, but it’s a good gamble that more times than not he is.
This is where WSU’s guards have struggled. They rarely force the issue against opposing defenses. As a result, WSU has by-far its worst free throw rate in the Marshall era.
Attacking a back-pedaling defense in transition is supposed to be one of the easiest ways to score for an offense. Marshall likes to call these situations “opportunity basketball” because WSU has a numbers advantage.
Well, right now the Shockers are squandering opportunities left and right. The play above catches WSU at its worst in both phases of transition.
WSU turns a numbers advantage and almost a sure lay-up into a live-ball turnover — or “atomic bomb” in Marshall lingo — and a fast break for Memphis the other way, which the Tigers easily convert after putting on a clinic with the use of three passes and one dribble to score.
This dates back to the defensive decline in last year’s team, as the Shockers are once again struggling to wall off dribble penetration out in front.
Too often opponents are using a simple fake, then accelerating past WSU’s lead defender. Here you can see the damage it causes when Rod Brown can’t stay in front of Memphis’ Kyvon Davenport. A simple jab step by Davenport is enough to get Brown leaning, as he gets him on his side and attacks.
Giving up dribble penetration collapses a defense and leads to breakdowns. In this clip, the strong-side defender, Jamarius Burton, correctly comes off his man in the corner and tries to cover for Brown. Although it looked like good defense, Burton was whistled for the foul because he had to slide over, something he wouldn’t have to do if Brown was able to wall off that penetration.
WSU will have spurts of defensive excellence, but too often the guards are getting beaten off the dribble and that’s putting a strain on the rest of WSU’s defense. Sometimes Echenique can erase the mistakes with his shot-blocking ability, but that’s only a band-aid to a bigger issue.
WSU makes nine passes in this offensive possession, but how many of them would you consider effective? In fact, did you notice that none of those nine passes made by WSU in the half-court were inside the arc against the extended 2-3 zone by Memphis?
Every offense attacking a 2-3 zone wants to attack the middle at the free throw line, whether that’s a pass or dribble penetration. WSU failed to do either; in fact, it took until Dexter Dennis put the ball on the ground with three seconds left on the shot clock for the ball to go inside the arc for WSU. By then, Dennis had to kick out to Echenique, who was run off the three-point line and had to attempt an awkward jump shot that missed the rim and resulted in a shot clock violation.
WSU loves to run this set against a zone where Haynes-Jones cuts across the zone and serves as a decoy setting up on the other wing. Meanwhile, McDuffie pins the middle zone defender with a screen to free Echenique swooping in behind. Did Burton have Echenique with the bullet pass right after the screen? Maybe.
But look at what happens to WSU’s offense after its first option is taken away. Four listless passes around the perimeter with poor spacing. McDuffie and Burton cut to the same spot late in the shot clock, nullifying each other and leaving Dennis with no option but to try to create.
It’s rare WSU is going to score on the very first option of a set. This type of play has happened too much this season and it usually ends with either McDuffie or Haynes-Jones hoisting a contested jump shot to beat the shot clock. The Shockers will have to continue to run crisp actions when its first hitter doesn’t work because plays like this can sink an offense’s efficiency.
Five good plays from Memphis
It might feel all negative after watching WSU take another road loss, but there are always positives. For those who stuck around to the end of this article, here are five plays that should get Shocker fans excited about the future.
This was the dunk everyone was waiting to see from Dexter Dennis, whose freak athleticism had yet to come through in a game this season. In fact, this was Dennis’ first dunk of the season.
But it was well worth the wait, as Dennis took the swing pass from Ricky Torres and got a running start in his attack of the rim. He finally attacked the rim with aggression, launching off the floor and over two Memphis defenders to finish the two-handed slam with the foul.
Shocker fans will hope to see many more of those from Dennis over the years.
Here’s two freshmen showing what they might be doing for the next four years with WSU.
The play starts with freshman Isaiah Poor Bear-Chandler popping out to the left corner and confidently taking and making a three-pointer, his first of the season. He has missed his three attempts before, but has always had a smooth stroke. McDuffie said afterward that Poor Bear-Chandler has always been able to hit that shot, he just needed the confidence. It should be there now.
Within four seconds of the shot going through the net, Memphis has already in-bounded the ball and pushed it all the way to WSU’s end. This gave the Shockers problems all night, but not here.
This time Dennis does an excellent job of staying in front of a charging Jeremiah Martin and going straight up in the air to contest the shot. That forces Martin to adjust in the air, which allows freshman Erik Stevenson to come over and send Martin’s shot flying into the first row of the stands.
Stevenson has impeccable timing as an off-ball shot-blocker, especially considering his size. It’s a trait that might end up helping WSU over time.
This one should be particularly exciting for WSU fans because it shows growth.
Poor Bear-Chandler has scored a handful of times on post moves already this season, but all of those moves always ended with him going right and finishing with a right hook.
Memphis center Mike Parks has probably read that in a scouting report and has Poor Bear-Chandler shaded to the right. The WSU freshman gives Parks a shimmy and fakes like he’s about to deliver the right hook, only to leave Parks behind with a smooth turn into a left hook that falls.
His career-high 12 points was already exciting, but it’s a small detail like this that make Poor Bear-Chandler even more dangerous for the Shockers going forward.
It’s always more exciting to see guards go up and swat shots and WSU is lucky enough to have two in the same class who can do it.
While Dennis would later show off his hops in an even more impressive way, it’s still impressive to watch the freshman time this chase-down block in transition.
In fact, Dennis got so high that he was able to essentially volleyball spike the ball off the backboard. This actually worked against WSU because it made the ricochet too hard to handle and Memphis actually scored on the put-back.
But if Dennis keeps making chase-down blocks like that, he will do more good than harm for the Shockers in the long run.
Echenique is WSU’s most efficient scorer because he’s the only one on the team who can generate shots like this on a consistent basis.
Most of Echenique’s buckets down low are finished on hook shots or shots taking Echenique straight to the rim. This was encouraging to see him basically bully Memphis’ Mike Parks in the post, losing him on the quick spin move to the baseline, then putting him in jail behind him, then losing him again on the pump fake.
It’s plays like these that should make WSU fans ecstatic about the rest of Echenique’s time with the Shockers. He’s developing faster than anyone expected and has already become WSU’s most efficient option on offense. If Echenique is going to score like that inside, he’s going to contend for all-AAC honors by the time he graduates.