Wichita State Shockers

AAC coaches not fooled by WSU’s winless start: ‘They’re capable of beating any team’

Markis McDuffie on WSU: ‘We’re a good team, it’s just a matter of time’

Wichita State men’s basketball senior Markis McDuffie answers questions following the Shockers’ 79-70 loss at No. 17 Houston on Saturday, January 12, 2019.
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Wichita State men’s basketball senior Markis McDuffie answers questions following the Shockers’ 79-70 loss at No. 17 Houston on Saturday, January 12, 2019.

For the first time in a decade, the Wichita State men’s basketball team is 0-3 to start conference play and tied for last place in the American Athletic Conference.

The winless start hasn’t fooled the conference’s coaches, who have seen the Shockers push three of the upper-tier teams in Memphis, Temple and Houston to the brink.

As lone conference unbeaten Central Florida (13-2, 3-0) prepares to make the trip to Wichita for a 9 p.m. tip against WSU (7-8, 0-3) on Wednesday, coach Johnny Dawkins is adamant with his team to ignore WSU’s record.

“They’re very deceiving because they are a team that has talent and they have (Markis) McDuffie, who is one of the best players in the nation, and they have a great coach (Gregg Marshall),” Dawkins said. “They’re capable of beating any team in this conference on any given night. Throw their record out the window, we know they’re a good basketball team.”

After escaping Wichita with an improbable 85-81 overtime victory, Temple coach Fran Dunphy echoed that sentiment on a conference call Monday.

“They are not very far off,” Dunphy said. “They are right where they need to be. A basket here or there is going to change things for them.”

After watching film of WSU’s season-opening loss to Louisiana Tech, Houston coach Kelvin Sampson was impressed with how far along the Shockers have come. After watching WSU take a one-point lead over the Cougars with 10 minutes remaining on Saturday, Sampson is very aware of how dangerous WSU can be.

“Credit Gregg and his staff, usually that (kind of improvement) tells you they are getting after it in practice,” Sampson said. “You can tell they have high-quality practices by the way his team is improving. They’ll get better and better and pretty soon, they’re going to be a tough out.”

While all of those things can be taken as compliments, it has been years since WSU under Marshall has taken solace in being a pesky underdog against conference foes. The Shockers are used to winning and making winning plays down the stretch.

WSU had a chance to rally at Memphis, but ultimately came up short in a 85-74 loss. The Shockers put Temple in an 11-point hole with a little more than three minutes remaining in regulation, but couldn’t close out the game and lost 85-81 in overtime. WSU led by one with 10 minutes left at No. 21 Houston, but lost 79-70.

“We’re right there, but we haven’t finished,” Marshall said. “Our margin for error, especially this year, is razor thin. We’re going to have to find a way to get more quality possessions. More finished possessions on the defensive end and figure out a way to get a little bit better shots on the offensive end.”

Watching film, Marshall sees opportunities for WSU during critical stretches in the second half of games. The Shockers have had a chance to swing games, but have rarely capitalized on them.

That’s life when essentially nine of 11 players are brand new to Division I and five of those core players are freshmen.

“The hardest thing is teaching them how to play as hard as they need to play every single possession,” Marshall said. “I’m not asking these kids to be perfect at this stage of their career, but they need to be close. They need to be really, really good and put together as many quality minutes together as possible. We’re building on that, we’re getting better.”

WSU’s underdog role isn’t likely fading away any time soon. After playing conference-leading UCF on Wednesday, the Shockers host defending champions Cincinnati on Saturday. After that, it’s road trips to much-improved teams in South Florida and Connecticut.

According to KenPom.com, WSU will be the underdog in all four of those games. The light at the end of the tunnel is that if the Shockers can maintain their spirits after a brutal opening stretch, KenPom has them as favorites in eight of their final 11 games.

“No one game is going to be easy,” Marshall said. “I’m not sure we’ll be favored in a game, maybe at home against somebody down the road in February. Every game is going to be challenging, every game is going to be a struggle. They’re going to have to continue to take their licks until they get better and they can do something about it.”

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