Wichita State Shockers

Shockers Q&A: 2019 starting lineup, WSU’s ceiling and floor and next year’s AAC finish

The dog days of summer are here and even though basketball is still off in the distance, that doesn’t mean we can’t talk about it.

I asked for questions from Wichita State fans recently and answered some of the questions that I thought were the most interesting. If you have any follow-up questions, feel free to ask away on Twitter via @tayloreldridge.

Here we go:

It’s the most-asked question in the offseason because fans love thinking about what could be. But in the Gregg Marshall system, it doesn’t end up mattering much who starts the game — it’s who finishes.

Answering the question in early July, still four months away from the start of the season, I’m going to give those with experience the edge: Jamarius Burton at point guard, Erik Stevenson at shooting guard, Dexter Dennis at small forward, Trey Wade at power forward and Jaime Echenique at center. But the only one I am 100 percent confident will start the majority of games this season is Dennis. The rest is up in the air because WSU has so much depth now.

At point guard, Burton will have to fend off a trio of incoming freshmen in Grant Sherfield, Tyson Etienne and Noah Fernandes. Stevenson will have to do the same at the off-guard spot, as Sherfield and Etienne can both play there too. There’s also a possibility of WSU playing three guards and then bumping Dennis up to power forward, where he can hold his own on the defensive end.

I would be shocked if either of the true freshmen — DeAntoni Gordon or Josaphat Bilau — started over Wade, who has one year of Division I experience at UTEP and is a junior. But since all three are newcomers, the job is up for grabs to whomever grasps Marshall’s concepts the quickest.

At center, Echenique was a more impactful player last season than Asbjorn Midtgaard, but the junior from Denmark has been impressive this offseason and could push for the starting spot. Isaiah Poor Bear-Chandler isn’t likely to start, but has slimmed down and could split time as back-up at the power forward and center positions if neither of the freshmen are ready to contribute right away.

Last season we saw eight different players earn a start under Marshall. This season, I’d expect that to be the same number, as I think Sherfield and Etienne will get a chance to start at some point and then Echenique and Midtgaard will likely split time at some point as well.

WSU ended last season winning 14 of its final 18 games and reaching the semifinals of the NIT in New York City. Now the question is whether the Shockers can carry over that momentum into the start of this season.

They’ll have to do so without their two best scorers and shot creators in graduated seniors Markis McDuffie and Samajae Haynes-Jones. Now without Teddy Allen, who steps up as the go-to option for WSU? That’s a question that could take some time to nail down.

I think some fans are losing sight in how young this team is going to be again next season. Yes, they return a solid core of players from last season. But the truth is they’re going to have a lot of freshmen on the ball this season and WSU saw the ups and downs that can produce this past season.

That’s why I think the floor is something similar to what WSU experienced last season: an up-and-down season that ends somewhere around 20 wins. That should once again be good enough to get into the NIT with the expectation of that group making the next leap the following and returning to the NCAA Tournament.

The ceiling happens if Dexter Dennis takes his game to the next level and becomes that NBA-caliber player that many are expecting. It happens if Jamarius Burton returns with a more consistent jump shot to his arsenal and Erik Stevenson starts making as many threes as his smooth stroke should generate. It happens if true freshmen Grant Sherfield and Tyson Etienne are mature beyond their years and become scorers right away. It happens if Jaime Echenique comes back with improved stamina and fully healthy and if Asbjorn Midtgaard really has turned the corner.

There’s no doubt that WSU is going to be more talented this season, but that inexperience still looms over the Shockers. That caps their potential somewhat, but the pieces are there for WSU to return to the NCAA Tournament this coming season and make it out of the first weekend with the right draw.

The truth is the season will probably play out somewhere in the middle of these two scenarios. In my estimation, a return to the NCAA Tournament should be the goal, not the expectation for such a young team.

I still haven’t done my deep-dive into what the rosters will look like this coming season, so I’m not going to make these my official offseason predictions yet. But with a pretty good idea of what everyone has coming back, I would say Wichita State is likely going to end up somewhere between No. 4 and No. 6 for me.

Memphis, with the No. 1 recruiting class in the country, is likely to be the unanimous pick by experts to win the American this coming season. I’m still locked into the Tigers being my No. 1 — their talent is undeniable and it’s safe to slot them ahead of WSU.

Houston under Kelvin Sampson has become an annual contender and I believe in their up-and-coming talent, so it’s safe to say I’ll have the Cougars ranked ahead of WSU as well. And even though Mick Cronin is gone, Cincinnati has the AAC Player of the Year, Jarron Cumberland, returning, his highly-potent cousin transferring in and a top-100 guard that should make the Bearcats a winner in John Brannen’s first year.

After that, then it gets dicey. Brian Gregory and South Florida are sure to be the trendy pick to move up the standings with everybody back from last season’s surprise squad. UConn will be in Year 2 under Dan Hurley, super talented once again, and motivated to leave the AAC on a high note. UCF has reloaded with transfers and you can never count out Temple or SMU from shaking things up.

I’m planning on doing my deep dive sometime in August, so be on the lookout for a more thorough preview of the conference then.

Talks between Wichita State and Kansas State heated up last summer, but the two sides were unable to come to an agreement. I haven’t heard much about WSU trying to rekindle the Creighton rivalry.

For WSU, it now has the luxury of being a bit more selective when it comes to its non-conference scheduling since joining the American Athletic Conference. WSU coaches are optimistic that the conference will establish itself as a 3-, 4-, 5-bid conference soon, so there’s not as much pressure on WSU to go out and find those resume-building opportunities in November and December.

Don’t get me wrong, Marshall loves to challenge his team early in the season and I still think WSU will schedule aggressively in the coming years. Just not as aggressively.

There hasn’t been another AAC team that has scheduled as tough as the Shockers. In the last two seasons plus this upcoming one, WSU will have played a home-and-home with Baylor, two road trips to Oklahoma State, three off-campus games against Oklahoma, a home-and-home with VCU and a neutral-court game against Providence. Not to mention going to three difficult November tournaments, where WSU will have faced Marquette, Notre Dame, Alabama and South Carolina.

Maybe the Shockers can reach an agreement with either K-State or Creighton in the coming years, but I can tell you the sense of urgency on WSU’s end has fallen.

The next evaluation period begins July 11, which is next Thursday, and it will be interesting to see what kind of WSU offers come from that.

As it stands, WSU will have one scholarship (when Echenique graduates) to replace for the 2020 recruiting class. But like always, Marshall and Co. will always have a back-up plan in place to protect themselves from off-season departures.

Right now it’s too early to say if there is a front-runner on WSU’s recruiting board. I have noticed the Shockers have offered a host of 2020 guards, including four-star prospect Ty Berry from Newton. Some other guards WSU has been in on for awhile now are Andre Curbelo, Chanse Robinson and Deivon Smith.

WSU has also offered wings D.J. Gordon, Jyare Davis and Eddie Lampkin, while Javarzia Belton and Davion Bradford are two bigs who have WSU offers as well.

Marshall said in April that he plans on redshirting one of the sophomore centers, either Poor Bear-Chandler or Morris Udeze, since WSU is deep at that position with Echenique and Midtgaard and also to break up that sophomore class.

The assumption is that the redshirt will be Udeze, who is still recovering from shoulder surgery from February and has yet to be cleared on the court. A redshirt year would allow Udeze to fully recover from the injury, instead of him trying to play catch-up from his missed time this summer.

It’s way too early to begin predicting any of the freshmen for a first-year redshirt. They’ve only been on campus less than a month (in Josaphat Bilau’s case, just this week) and they’re still adjusting to practicing at the Division I level.

But when it comes down to decision time, I think one, if not two, freshman will join the sophomore center sitting out this season as a redshirt.

This is an interesting question that I will probably explore more in depth sometime this month. But for now, I took a look at how WSU stacked up against its AAC competition in just the sports the Shockers compete in.

After dominating the Valley in the all-sports trophy, the Shockers have found much more competition in the American. Houston won men’s basketball, women’s golf and three track and field titles, while UCF won volleyball and women’s tennis and placed high in almost every sport, as did Cincinnati. In fact, WSU’s only two conference titles came in women’s cross country and women’s outdoor track and field.

The cross country and track and field programs carried the WSU athletic department last season. The men’s cross country team added a fourth-place finish, while both indoor track and field teams placed top-three and the men’s outdoor team finished second.

Outside of those programs, WSU’s outlook was pretty bleak, as no other program finished in the top-three of the conference last season.

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