On the eve of the college basketball season, Wichita State men’s basketball coach Gregg Marshall faces a good kind of dilemma entering the Shockers’ game against Omaha on Tuesday at Koch Arena.
Who starts at point guard?
Wichita State appears to have two good options in incumbent, Jamarius Burton, who set the program record for most assists as a freshman last season, and in highly touted freshman Grant Sherfield, who scored 18 points in WSU’s 92-57 exhibition victory last week.
To Marshall, he’s more interested in who he will have on the floor at the end of games. While Sherfield was the breakout star, Burton also played well and finished with 14 points, four rebounds and six assists without a turnover. At 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, Burton offers positional versatility and can play small forward alongside Sherfield in some lineups.
Regardless of who starts, Sherfield is sure to see plenty of minutes Tuesday as WSU’s point guard. Throw in fellow guard Tyson Etienne and the Shockers will once again have multiple true freshmen handling the ball for them this season, which Marshall believes will dictate what kind of start the team gets off to this season.
“How well we do early will in some regards be dependent on how those freshmen produce,” Marshall said. “How those freshmen handle the situation and how they handle the basketball coming out of the chute will be very, very important to see.”
On Monday, Marshall said he has supplied Sherfield with four keys to be successful:
- Take care of the basketball. “If you turn it over five or six times, you’ve already minimized our chances to win,” Marshall said.
- Be an extension of the coaching staff on the floor. “Be a leader,” Marshall said. “I don’t care if you’re a freshman. I don’t care how old you are. If you’re going to run the point for us, I want you to organize your group, know what we’re running, make sure everyone else knows what we’re running and be an extension of the coaching staff.”
- Play great defense. “You’ve got to defend your position and give it your all on every possession,” Marshall said.
- Pick your spots when trying to score. “That doesn’t mean take a heat check with 24 seconds left on the shot clock and try to hit a stepback three because you can,” Marshall said. “You’ve got to make sure everyone’s involved and that the ball’s being moved. In the end, if there’s eight seconds on the shot clock, you’re going to have to create something. You’re going to get a chance to show off that stepback or the move you’ve been working on all summer.”
The seven returners are motivated to make sure a disaster scenario like last season’s opener at Koch Arena, a 71-58 loss to Louisiana Tech, doesn’t repeat.
But the Shockers will have to play well. While Omaha might not have the athletic scorers that Louisiana Tech team had, it is a proud program that has played for the Summit League championship twice in the past three seasons and is coming off its best season since transitioning to Division I before the 2011-12 season.
Plus, Omaha’s best post player, 6-foot-8 junior Matt Pile, is a Wichita native and former all-state player at Eisenhower.
“He’s got our full and undivided attention,” Marshall said. “This is a good team. They were one game away from the NCAA Tournament. They’re right there.”
Marshall said the team is far ahead of where it was at this point last season. Part of that is because WSU has much more experience and more experienced players, while part of that also has to do with the freshmen coming with a high basketball intellect.
But the coach also wants to remind fans that this is still an extremely young team with 10 of 13 scholarship players being either freshmen or sophomores. WSU could also be without three scholarship players for Tuesday’s game, as senior center Jaime Echenique (left hand) and freshman guard Noah Fernandes (left foot) are declared out and sophomore center Morris Udeze (concussion) a game-time decision.
“I’ve got to make sure I don’t lose sight of the fact we’ve got five freshmen and five sophomores,” Marshall said. “There’s going to be ups and downs. Even with a veteran team, you have days that aren’t great. These guys respond when you point things out to them. The problems we had against Nebraska weren’t the same problems we had against Northeastern State.”
Omaha at Wichita State
When: 7:05 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Koch Arena (10,506), Wichita
TV: YurView Kansas (CoxHD 2022 in Kansas)
Radio: KEYN, 103.7-FM
About Wichita State: Wichita State returns three starters and four other bench pieces from a 22-win team that reached the semifinals of the National Invitation Tournament last season. The Shockers were picked fourth in the American Athletic Conference preseason poll by coaches... WSU is still one of the youngest teams in the country with 10 of its 13 scholarship players either freshmen or sophomores... This is the first meeting with Omaha in 25 years. The Shockers are 2-0 in the all-time series with both wins coming in Wichita... The Nov. 5 start date is the earliest starting date in Wichita State history... WSU has opened at Koch Arena the last 16 seasons and are 15-1 in those games with the lone loss coming last season against Louisiana Tech... The Shockers have a connection with Omaha’s top post player Matt Pile, a Wichita native and former Eisenhower standout who used to be teammates in high school with current WSU walk-on Brycen Bush... Omaha’s director of operations Jake Koch was a former standout player at Northern Iowa from 2009-13 with many memorable showdowns with the Shockers... Former WSU walk-on Brett Barney transferred to Omaha prior to last year and averaged 2.7 points and 1.8 rebounds in his final season... WSU sophomore center Isaiah Poor Bear-Chandler was an all-state player at Omaha Central High School and has many ties to the Omaha area.
About Omaha: Omaha is coming off its most successful season since transitioning to Division I in the 2011-12 season, as the Mavericks finished 21-11 overall and 13-3 in Summit League play. Omaha played in the Summit League championship game for the second time in the last three years under coach Derrin Hansen... JT Gibson and Matt Pile were both selected to the second team of the preseason All-Summit teams. Gibson is Omaha’s leading returning scorer at 12.9 points, while Pile averaged 11.2 points and 7.9 rebounds... Omaha was picked fourth in the Summit League preseason poll... Omaha has plenty of Kansas flavor on its roster, most notably with Wichita native and former Eisenhower standout Matt Pile, but also with Zach Thornhill (St. James Academy) and Marco Smith (Kansas City Washington)... Wanjang Tut and Zach Thornhill are slated to make their first career starts on Tuesday, while Pile and Gibson were both full-time starters last season... Omaha ranked second in the country in limiting turnovers and finished 10th in the country in three-point shooting percentage (39.3%) last season.