The anguish of Sunday’s overtime loss to Temple has faded on the Wichita State men’s basketball team, but the missed opportunity for a win looms even larger now when looking at the schedule.
WSU plays the preseason top-three teams in the American Athletic Conference its next three games, then makes two road trips against surging South Florida and against a talented Connecticut team.
It’s possible, if not likely, the Shockers (7-7, 0-2 AAC) will be underdogs in all five games, beginning with this Saturday’s road trip to No. 17 Houston (15-1, 2-1 AAC) for a 7 p.m. tip broadcast on CBS Sports Network. With WSU already on a three-game losing skid, it’s a brutal stretch of the schedule for a team trying to forge an identity with so many newcomers.
“The pain is temporary,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said on his coaches’ show on Monday. “That’s what I’m trying to make myself believe and have the team believe. We’re going to get back to where we need to be, but it’s not going to be right away. It’s not going to be today. It’s not going to be any time (soon). It’s going to take some time and we’re going to have to continue to coach these guys.”
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For a team in desperate need of confidence, a trip to Houston’s renovated Fertitta Center might be the worst place to go. Houston owns the nation’s longest home winning streak at 28 games, including the last nine at the Fertitta Center, where the Cougars beat Tulsa by 18 and Memphis by 13 last week.
WSU does have some history ending the nation’s longest home winning streak, as last year’s Shockers halted a 39-game home winning streak by No. 5 Cincinnati. But that was a senior-laden team led by a NBA guard and that same team took a 73-59 beat-down at Houston last year.
Houston will be even more motivated for Saturday’s game after its undefeated start to the season ended in an 83-79 last-second loss at Temple.
“On the heels of (WSU’s Temple loss), now we have to go play the toughest team in our league right now in terms of talent and mental and physical toughness,” Marshall said. “They just grind you and beat you up. It’s just a great team. They play the right way. They’re strong, physical.
They’ve got grown men, we’ve got kids. We’re going to have to go down there and really have to play well to compete for 40 minutes. Not even my veteran group of six seniors could do that last year.”
Houston is led by two of its senior guards, Corey Davis Jr. and Galen Robinson Jr. They are both tenacious defenders, while Davis (15.5 points) is the go-to scorer for the Cougars and Robinson (5.5 assists) is the distributor in the offense. Junior Armoni Brooks has graduated from super sub to instant offense in the starting lineup, as he is making 3.6 three-pointers per game and averaging 14.9 points and 7.3 rebounds.
Houston allows just 60.1 points per game and holds opponents to 36.3 percent field-goal shooting and 26.5 percent three-point shooting, all three marks are in the top-10 nationally. That’s not great news for a WSU team that is shooting 41 percent from the field and 31 percent on three-pointers.
“Houston may be the best team we’ve played,” Marshall said. “They’re a legit team. If they stay healthy, they’re a second- or third-weekend type team in the NCAA Tournament. They could go all the way. They’ve got that much talent and depth and coaching. We’ve got quite a challenge coming up.”
WSU starting center Jaime Echenique is likely a game-time decision for Saturday night’s game. After suffering a partially torn plantar fascia at VCU on Dec. 22, Echenique re-aggravated the injury Sunday against Temple. He has participated in practice this week, but in a limited fashion.
Marshall sounded like he wanted to be cautious with Echenique in his Tuesday news conference.
“It’s wonderful that he tries to go, but at some point when he’s that banged up, he really can’t run or jump,” Marshall said. “He had one move early in the game where his shot was erased because he couldn’t elevate. He’s trying to go. He wants to help. He’s got his heart in the right place, but he’s just not healthy.”
Wichita State at No. 17 Houston
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Fertitta Center (7,035), Houston
Records: WSU 7-7, 0-2; UH 15-1, 2-1
TV: CBS Sports Network (643 on UVerse, 260 on Cox, 221 on DirecTV, 158 on DISH)
Radio: KEYN, 103.7-FM
About the Houston Cougars: Houston (15-1) is coming off its first loss of the season, a 73-69 setback at Temple on Wednesday. Houston’s 15-game winning streak was third longest in school history... While that streak ended, Houston still owns the nation’s longest active home winning streak at 28 games. The last nine have came at the renovated Fertitta Center, which opened this season. The last home loss came in a 78-75 defeat to Akron on March 15, 2017... Houston is ranked No. 15 in the coaches’ poll, No. 17 in the AP poll and No. 9 in the NCAA NET rankings. The Cougars’ AP ranking is the highest since 1984.... The Cougars have the 15th-best defense nationally, per KenPom.com. Houston ranks among the nation leaders on defense in opponent field goal percentage (36.3, second), opponent three-point percentage (26.5, fourth) and scoring defense (60.1, ninth).
About the Wichita State Shockers: This will be the only regular-season meeting with Houston. The Shockers lead the all-time series 17-11, but is just 3-8 in Houston. The last time WSU played a game on Houston’s campus was 59 years ago... Coach Gregg Marshall is 1-2 against Houston in his career with all three meetings occurring last year in the Shockers’ first season in the American. Marshall is 1-3 head-to-head against Houston coach Kelvin Sampson... The Shockers ended the nation’s longest home winning streak last year when they halted Cincinnati’s 39-game home winning streak... Even with an 0-3 start to road play this season, WSU has been the nation’s best true road team since 2010 with 75 true road wins and an 80-percent winning rate... WSU is 14-18 against AP Top 25 teams uner Marshall, including a 3-5 mark in true road games. The Shockers won two of those games last season: at No. 5 Cincinnati and at No. 16 Baylor... WSU hasn’t won a game in 24 days, thanks to a 12-day holiday break and a mid-week bye. This will be just the third WSU game in the last three weeks... Senior Markis McDuffie enters with a 19.1 scoring average, which is tops in the American... WSU has played one of the nation’s toughest schedules to date, as it has the 34th strength of schedule in the NET.... Saturday’s game kicks off three straight games against the preseason top-three teams in Houston, Central Florida and Cincinnati, which all rank in the top-30 in the nation in scoring defense and field goal percentage defense.