The national signing day for the spring period opened this week and the Wichita State men’s basketball team landed its second-highest ranked recruit of the Gregg Marshall era.
Sunrise Academy’s Grant Sherfield, a unanimous four-star combo guard who is ranked No. 110 in the country by Rivals, gave his verbal commitment to the Shockers on Tuesday, picking WSU over Minnesota and Wake Forest. On Thursday, junior-college transfer Trey Wade picked WSU, using the Shockers’ last scholarship.
Sherfield and Wade will join three recruits who signed in the fall period in fellow four-star and top-150 combo guard Tyson Etienne and three-star prospects in point guard Noah Fernandes and forward DeAntoni Gordon. Sherfield’s commitment vaulted WSU to the No. 39 overall class in the country in Rivals’ 2019 team rankings.
It’s never too early to take a peek into what next season might look like, so here’s a rundown of what WSU has coming back and coming in at each position for the 2019-20 season.
Returners: Jamarius Burton, so., 6-4, 208 (6.0 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.4 steals); Erik Stevenson, so., 6-3, 210 (6.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.1 assists).
Newcomers: Grant Sherfield, fr., 6-2, 185 (four-star recruit); Tyson Etienne, fr., 6-1, 180 (four-star recruit); Noah Fernandes, fr., 6-0, 170 (three-star recruit).
WSU’s offense took a significant dip from a typical Marshall team because of the extreme inexperience at the guard positions. To summarize, WSU didn’t have enough play-making punch, which led to poor shooting numbers, low assist numbers and the third-lowest offensive efficiency mark of the Marshall era, per KenPom.com. It also didn’t help that Samajae Haynes-Jones (30%), Stevenson (28%), Burton (26%) and Torres (9%) shot a combined 27% on 12 three-point attempts per game.
Marshall added a pair of top-125 combo guards in Sherfield and Etienne on top of a traditional point guard in Fernandes.
“You have to have guys that can break the defense down,” Marshall said on his final radio show. “I told the (returners) that you have to get better at creating your own shot and creating shots for others. You got to understand what a good shot is and what a bad shot is and get us a good one either for you or create one for someone else.”
Burton showed glimpses of that playmaking, aggressively turning the corner on pick-and-rolls and finishing with a program-record 126 assists for a freshman. But it’s also true that defenses didn’t respect Burton’s outside shot, which led to defenders mucking up driving lanes by going under every ball screen and sometimes leaving him open on the perimeter if he didn’t have the ball. On top of his 26% three-point shooting, Burton made just 30% of his mid-range jumpers, per Hoop-Math.com.
It’s clear Burton can level up his game the quickest with an improved jump shot, which he’ll need to do to hold off the newcomers at point guard. But even if Burton cedes way there, that doesn’t mean he would fall out of the lineup. At 6-4 with a strong frame, Burton’s defensive versatility is valuable and means he could see more time at small forward and serve as a secondary creator next season if the freshmen prove themselves early. Regardless of which position he plays, it’s likely Burton plays major minutes for WSU next season.
“I told him going into (last) season, I said, ‘Jamarius, you’re a consistent jump shot away from being an all-conference player,’ and I still believe that,” Marshall said on his radio show. “He does so many things to help your team win. He’s strong, he competes, he’s very cerebral. There’s no way we go 14-4 if we don’t turn to him as our starting point guard down the stretch.
“I told him he needs to make 500 shots every day. He needs to not be mechanical and have it become fluid. Mid-range, floaters, three-pointers off the catch, three-pointers off the dribble. Guys were going under ball screens at the free throw line last year and that’s a problem. He’s got to be a threat to shoot the basketball.”
The other returning sophomore, Stevenson, can also stand to level up his game from restoring confidence to his outside shot this summer. Considered a sharpshooter coming out of high school, Stevenson’s 28% shooting from beyond the arc did not match his smooth shooting stroke. But a positive is that Stevenson demonstrated a knack for delivering clutch makes for WSU.
He improved his decision-making as a secondary creator and defensive player during WSU’s close to the season, but where he can help the Shockers the most next season is by making three-pointers. If he can shoot closer to 38% than 28%, then Stevenson should again play major minutes for the Shockers.
The trio of freshmen will all have a chance to make an immediate impact. Sherfield and Etienne are two of the highest-rated recruits Marshall has signed and scouts view both as guards that can be instant offense for the Shockers, while Fernandes, although undersized, possesses a grit that Marshall loves. It’s not preposterous to imagine two freshman eventually starting, just like it’s not crazy to think one might end up redshirting.
At the very least, WSU will have more talent and depth at the two guard positions this season. The ceiling has certainly been raised with Marshall stockpiling a core that could all be together for the next three seasons. But expectations for this first season together should be tempered; after all, all five guards will be underclassmen and it’s to be expected WSU will once again take its lumps with that kind of inexperience.
Returners: Dexter Dennis, so., 6-5, 208 (8.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 40-percent three-point shooting); Teddy Allen, so., 6-5, 220.
Newcomers: DeAntoni Gordon, fr., 6-8, 195 (three-star recruit), Trey Wade, jr., 6-7, 210 (junior-college transfer)
The biggest question for WSU heading into next season is how it will replace senior Markis McDuffie in his stretch four role for the Shockers. As it currently stands, WSU does not have an ideal replacement. Allen has the size and is a tenacious rebounder, but he’s still a work in progress as a defender. Dennis proved capable of guarding power forwards effectively as a freshman, but if WSU wants him to flourish on the offensive end it’s not wise to have him battling entire games in the post.
Of course, the Shockers have one scholarship remaining in their 2019 class and are expected to obtain a ready-to-play power forward. If Marshall is able to land the final item on his wish list, then that would free up Dennis to play most of his minutes at shooting guard or small forward and slot Allen primarily at small forward, where he can give WSU more of an advantage with each capable of playing minutes as the small-ball power forward in a pinch.
There’s no denying Dennis and Allen are the two most exciting prospects for WSU going into next season. Dennis ended his freshman season on a tear, shooting 44% on 2.3 made three-pointers per game during WSU’s 14-4 close to the season and playing lock-down defense on players ranging from point guards to power forwards. Marshall can see the makings of a star player; it’s up to Dennis to realize that potential and fine-tune it going into his sophomore season.
“When he gets his drive to the paint down to where I’m either going to windmill on you and I’m going to dunk or I’m going to float it or I’m going to make the layup and get the and-1, he’s going to be a real problem,” Marshall said of Dennis. “I’ve been saying all along after Markis, who I hope gets a great opportunity in the Association, Dexter Dennis is the next (NBA) guy.”
Allen was a scoring dynamo off the bench for West Virginia as a freshman before transferring to WSU last season. Put a smaller defender on him and Allen excelled at playing bully ball; put a bigger defender on him and Allen showed a sweet mid-range stroke. It was rare for Allen to take or make a three-pointer, but he has reportedly been working to add the three-point shot to his repertoire at WSU. He might be a work in progress in other areas, but WSU is confident Allen can make an immediate impact scoring.
“Teddy is a prolific scorer, man, can he score the basketball,” Marshall said. “He’s an uncanny finisher with contact around the basket. He just knows how to use your mass coming into his mass. He has that science down and knows how to make those baskets with body contact. He’s going to have to get better defensively and get better at boxing out. He’s a work in progress, but a talented, talented player.”
Gordon offers somewhat of an X-factor for WSU. He was originally projected as a power forward prospect, but Gordon developed his ball-handling and shooting skills during his final season of high school and might be able to play minutes at small forward as well. He will benefit from strength and conditioning from Kerry Rosenboom, as Gordon enters WSU at a wiry 195 pounds in a 6-8 frame. But if his offense translates, Gordon could provide a punch off the bench for the Shockers.
Wade projects to be a McDuffie-like stretch forward. He won’t be the three-point shooter of McDuffie, but he has elite athleticism and should be a strong defender and rebounder for the Shockers.
Returners: Jaime Echenique, sr., 6-11, 258 (9.2 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.4 blocks); Asbjorn Midtgaard, jr., 7-0, 268 (3.8 points, 3.1 rebounds, 0.8 blocks); Morris Udeze, so., 6-8, 254 (3.3 points, 3.2 rebounds, 56-percent shooting); Isaiah Poor Bear-Chandler, 6-9, 265, so. (2.6 points, 1.9 rebounds, 50-percent shooting).
Marshall used his center position as a three-headed monster for much of the season, starting Echenique and then rotating among Midtgaard, Udeze and Poor Bear-Chandler off the bench. After seeing inconsistent results, Marshall has made it his off-season mission to make sure the centers are improved for this coming season.
“I promise you they’re going to be in better shape next year,” Marshall said. “I’m going to try to make them a little nasty. They’re just so nice, all of them are so nice. It’s OK to knock somebody over once in a while, it really is. We’ve got four post players and one of those sophomores is probably going to redshirt next year because we don’t need four.”
That narrows the redshirt candidates down to Udeze, who is coming off shoulder surgery and is likely out until September, and Poor Bear-Chandler. Both had their moments as freshmen, but Udeze’s season was derailed by the shoulder injury and Marshall lamented Poor Bear-Chandler’s inconsistent play. Udeze has shown promise as a bull for WSU inside, while Poor Bear-Chandler has the athleticism that none of the other centers possess.
There’s no doubt who the starting center will be after a breakout campaign from Echenique, who led WSU in plus-minus and was an anchor defensively for the Shockers. He was a two-way force for WSU when he played, but the problem was his stamina limited him to 18 minutes per game. If he can increase that closer to 25, WSU will improve with more of Echenique’s low-post moves, occasional three-point bombs, rebounding and shot-blocking. It’s also easy to forget Echenique played the final 25 games with plantar fasciitis in his foot; if he is able to enter fully healthy next season, Echenique could be in store for an all-conference season.
The final stats don’t indicate the strides Midtgaard made in his sophomore season after hardly playing as a freshman. He started the first game, then lost his spot in the rotation, only to gain it back and become a consistent contributor for WSU during its 14-4 close to the season. He finished on a team-high 63 percent of his field goals, blocked shots at a high rate and was the team’s best screener. If he can become a dominant rebounder like his size should allow, then Midtgaard could become an even more effective second piece in the three-headed monster.