Wichita State Shockers

Shocker mailbag: Q&A on WSU basketball’s postseason hopes this year and its future

With eight days in between Shocker games, I figured now was as good as any time to do a Wichita State mailbag with the fans.

I asked on Twitter for fans to send me their questions regarding WSU athletics and here are my responses:

Probably better than most fans think, but first a little review: the NIT features 32 teams and gives automatic bids to teams that win their regular-season conference championship but are left out of the NCAA field. That usually leaves anywhere from 20 to 25 at-large bids. Those are supposed to be awarded to the most deserving teams, but the selection process isn’t as clear as the NCAA Tournament and sometimes teams decline bids.

I predicted in December that WSU would finish 9-9 in the AAC, a projection that is looking pretty on-target with the Shockers riding a four-game winning streak to improve their conference record to 5-6. WSU has three games left at Koch Arena against teams outside the top-third of the conference. If WSU takes care of business there, then anything more than one win out of the remaining road trips to Cincinnati, Tulsa, SMU and Tulane will be gravy. Win more than one and even better.

I think last year’s Temple team provides a pretty good doppelganger. The Owls finished the season 17-15 with a win in the first round of the AAC Tournament and a second-round exit to Wichita State. They finished 8-10 in conference play and had a handful of nice nonconference victories. WSU won’t have as many quality nonconference wins, but it does have wins over Providence and Baylor and could finish better than 8-10 in the conference.

That Temple team received a No. 5 seed in the NIT, something similar I think the Shockers would receive. If WSU finishes with a .500 or winning record, it’s almost a guarantee some postseason tournament will pick it up. And given this team’s youth, I’m sure Marshall would gladly accept to give them more practice time together.

Hard to believe this is a question after WSU opened AAC play 1-6. But I’ve been hearing optimistic chatter from Shocker fans after the team has ripped off four straight wins. Just like I told them before the winning streak, it’s important to keep the big picture in mind. WSU played a lot of really good teams early, so those losses were not concerning to me. In the last two weeks, WSU has won three games against middle-to-bottom teams and a road game against the 11th-best team. That’s a step forward for this team, but it doesn’t convince me this team is ready to compete at the NCAA level.

Winning at Cincinnati or at Tulsa is a must. The Shockers would have to take care of business against Memphis, UConn and East Carolina at home, and then beat SMU and Tulane on the road. That would make them winners of 10 of their final 11, as WSU would end the season with an 18-12 record and 11-7 in AAC play. The Shockers would likely need to win at least two games in the conference tournament at that point, including a win over either Houston or Cincinnati, just to begin to draw consideration for a play-in game.

How likely is all of that? Not very. But that’s OK. This team is playing better and headed in the right direction. A loss at Cincinnati on Sunday doesn’t change that. But how those final six games go will decide a lot about their postseason fate.

Here is the average for minutes played for the five freshman on scholarship for WSU this season: Jamarius Burton (23.4), Erik Stevenson (23.2), Dexter Dennis (23.1), Morris Udeze (12.6) and Isaiah Poor Bear-Chandler (8.8). For reference, Burton, Stevenson and Dennis are all playing more minutes than Markis McDuffie (18.5) did when he was chosen Missouri Valley Freshman of the Year in 2016 and Fred VanVleet (16.2) in 2013.

You have to go all the way back to 2009, in Marshall’s second season, when a true freshman named Toure’ Murry played 28.2 minutes per game and was second on the team in scoring at 11.0 points. He turned out all right for the Shockers, so shows what the development can be like for Burton, Stevenson and Dennis.

I think the obvious answer is Teddy Allen, the sophomore transfer from West Virginia who will be eligible to play at the start of next season. He was already scoring at the Big 12 level as a true freshman and with a full year to get in better shape and work on his game, it’s easy to project Allen as WSU’s go-to scorer next season. All reports from practices this season have been that Allen is unstoppable at times. His jump shot is a work-in-progress, but his will to win and score are unmatched and that tenacity overwhelms a lot of defenders.

As far as returners go, I think we will see a sophomore jump from Dexter Dennis and/or Erik Stevenson into double-digit scoring. Allen is really going to apply pressure going toward the basket and I suspect kick-outs to Dennis and Stevenson are going to be plentiful next season. They’re still learning the intricacies of shot selection at this level, but by next season I think both will be reliable scorers. I also think once Jaime Echenique gets fully healthy, he will be a double-digit scorer easily. It’s easy to forget he was scoring 10-plus in the nonconference before his foot injury in late December. He hasn’t been the same since, but Echenique is still a critical piece to these Shockers. As a fully healthy senior? Echenique has the potential to be an all-conference type if he continues to progress.

A wild card to keep in mind is incoming freshman Tyson Etienne. WSU coaches are very high on this combo guard and he’s the type of play-making weapon that a lot of other AAC teams boasts. He can play on the ball or off the ball. Either way, I expect Etienne to play major minutes as a freshman and possibly push that 10-point average in his debut season. He’s that good.

It’s been a difficult season for Allen, who had a glimmer of hope to play this season. After seeing the NCAA approve so many waivers early in the season, Allen was optimistic that he would also receive one and be able to help the Shockers this season. But that didn’t work out and that was a tough pill to swallow.

The NCAA gave him a special waiver to travel with the team, but Allen hasn’t been using it recently. I was told that he doesn’t like sitting around not being able to help his team, so he’s been staying at home during AAC road trips. He’s still very much part of the team and just as much of a problem to guard in practice as ever. He’s still engaged on the bench during home games and his celebrations at the end of the bench are always worth a second look when watching games on television or in person.

All signs point toward him being the Markis McDuffie for next season’s team in terms of being a go-to scorer.

On the season, here are the players who have been a positive on box score plus-minus: Jaime Echenique (81), Erik Stevenson (54), Rod Brown (19), Dexter Dennis (12) and Markis McDuffie (10). Here are the players who have been minus: Isaiah Poor Bear-Chandler (-5), Samajae Haynes-Jones (-14), Ricky Torres (-18), Jamarius Burton (-21), Asbjorn Midtgaard (-29) and Morris Udeze (-32).

I always throw this caveat in there when discussing plus-minus: you cannot use it to exclusively judge a player. Remember, they are on the court with four other players. Sometimes they have very little impact on how WSU is performing as a team. Just something to keep in mind, although Marshall does like referring to it after games because it helps paint the picture of if that player was part of good or bad things when he was on the court.

Since Baker signed a two-year, $9 million guaranteed contract with the Knicks, he received a full payment of $4.54 million this season from New York. He signed a partially guaranteed deal with the Washington Wizards, so when they cut him they only had to pay him for the month he spent with the team. That came out to be $153,823. Not bad for a month’s work.

I asked Marshall about this on Tuesday and he said he was waiting to hear back for an update, as well. Udeze is scheduled for another MRI on Thursday and his status should be clarified by the time of Sunday’s game at Cincinnati. Udeze is still in a sling, so there’s no chance he plays at Cincinnati. But it will be important if he will be able to come back this season or not. And before you ask, Udeze crossed the threshold of applying for a medical redshirt a while back.

The Wichita State track and field team heads to Birmingham, Ala. next weekend for the AAC Indoor Championships. I’ll write more on this next week, but yes, both teams have an excellent chance at placing top-three in the conference.

That’s quite the accomplishment for a women’s team that took its lumps last season when they had a mass redshirt season. Now with all of those athletes back, the women have the potential to win the meet if they can find enough points outside of their studs in Winny Koskei, Rebekah Topham, Sidney Sapp and Kelsey Slawson. No one is catching Houston on the men’s side, but WSU looks to be in great position to be next-best in the conference with its depth. Be on the look-out for a more detailed breakdown next week on Kansas.com.

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