Two games elevate No. 11 Wichita State’s basketball non-conference schedule from solid to something more enticing and challenging.
New Mexico State, Friday’s opener, occupies a spot normally reserved for a lesser opponent — Emporia State, North Carolina Central, Charleston Southern in recent seasons. New Mexico State is an experienced team with three straight NCAA Tournament berths to its credit and Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year Daniel Mullings.
“They’re very aggressive and athletic,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “It would be a great to play a team that we could blow out here, but don’t count on that. We’ve got our hands full.”
WSU squeezed in Friday’s game because it didn’t want to open against Memphis on Tuesday in Sioux Falls, S.D. WSU will play New Mexico State again next season at Koch Arena, a two-year deal that pays the Aggies $200,000.
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That sets a tone for what Marshall calls his toughest non-conference schedule. WSU grabbed the chance to get a high-level guarantee opponent and worked almost three months while New Mexico State searched for home games and juggled dates. The late addition of Seton Hall, a game sparked by a conversation between athletic directors at a spring conference, in a spot often reserved for a weaker opponent put the final touch on the two-month grind.
“Those are the two difference-makers, where in that past that could have been a directional school, a lower-echelon series,” senior associate athletic director Darron Boatright said. “(Seton Hall) was late to the party and the date happened to match up perfectly. They were willing to come here first. It’s hard to turn that down.”
WSU’s annual struggle to schedule good teams remains a struggle, but it is one Marshall, Boatright, athletic director Eric Sexton and director of operations Dominic Okon are winning.
The Shockers are in home-and-home series with Utah, Alabama, Seton Hall, Tulsa and Saint Louis and their schedule of holiday tournaments is strong. The fear of no longer having games in the BracketBuster and the Missouri Valley Conference’s series with the Mountain West is diminishing, as long as the series with Saint Louis (through 2017) and Tulsa (discussions are ongoing about extending it past next season) continue. The goal of not relying on the strength of the MVC to build an NCAA Tournament at-large resume is a success.
The Shockers will play in three of the top holiday tournaments in coming seasons, starting in November 2015 in the Orlando Classic (formerly Old Spice Classic) at the Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando. WSU will play in the Battle 4 Atlantis in the 2016-17 season and make a return to the Maui Invitational in 2017-18.
“Right now, we have to protect against losing the games that we did … and we have to protect against the last couple of years where our conference has been in transition,” Boatright said. “Hopefully, it is re-establishing itself as a strong basketball-rated conference. If (the MVC) can get consistent again, we may not be as heavy on our non-league schedule.”
Boatright said WSU and Connecticut wanted to play this season, but the only available dates for Connecticut fell during MVC play. The schools will continue to discuss a series. He also mentioned New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State as schools with potential for future series.
“The credibility is that Gregg is replicating in this program what he did at Winthrop,” Boatright said. “They see his program, now that it’s established, as one that will help their schedule. That’s why you get Seton Hall. That’s why you get Alabama and Tennessee.”
Memphis lost its exhibition game, 74-70 to NCAA Division II Christian Brothers on Wednesday. The Tigers won’t get another tuneup before opening with WSU. WSU picked an opening opponent with two players (Mullings and center Tshilidzi Nephawe) on the all-conference preseason team and guard DK Eldridge on the second team. It won’t be an easy way to extend its regular-season win streak to 32.
Mullings averaged 16.8 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists last season, making 46.6 percent of his shots and 27.7 percent of his three-pointers.
“He’s more like a Tekele Cotton (kind of) athlete,” Marshall said. “He looks like a dynamic athlete, slasher, rebounder, defender.”
Worth noting — Marshall said a decision to redshirt a player remains a possibility. It is likely one or two Shockers won’t play Friday to preserve that option … A maximum of 30 tickets, if unused by athletic department staff, could be available before home games. Fans should call the ticket office at 316-978-3267 two hours before the game to reserve a ticket.… WSU’s eight MVC championship teams will be introduced during timeouts at Friday’s game. WSU’s MVC and NCAA Tournament banners will drop before the game.
New Mexico State at No. 11Wichita State
When: 8:05 p.m. Friday
Where: Koch Arena
Records: Opener for both teams
Radio: KEYN, 103.7-FM
TV: Cox 22
New Mexico State at No. 11 Wichita State
New Mex. St.
Fred Van Vleet
Statistics from 2013-14
New Mexico State: The Aggies defeated Western New Mexico 102-39 on Monday in an exhibition. Barry made 6 of 7 shots and scored a 17 points. Redshirt freshman F Pascal Siakam came off the bench to make 9 of 14 shots and score 20 points. The Aggies made 66.1 percent of their shots … New Mexico State defeated Drake 81-69 in overtime last season. It lost 73-69 to San Diego State in overtime in the NCAA Tournament. The Aggies rallied from a 12-point halftime deficit to force overtime and Mullings scored 18 points.
Wichita State: The Shockers won their exhibition game 112-55 over Northwood (Fla.) on Saturday. Baker led the Shockers with 22 points and made 4 of 6 three-pointers. G Ria’n Holland came off the bench to make all four of his threes and score 16 points … WSU hasn’t lost a season- or home-opener under coach Gregg Marshall. Its last loss in a home opener came against Northern Illinois to start the 1995-96 season. Delaware defeated WSU in the 2001-02 season-opener in Alaska … WSU last lost a non-conference home game in 2011 to Virginia Commonwealth, 68-67, a streak of 23 games that includes three at Intrust Bank Arena … Cotton starts the season with 109 steals, ninth on WSU’s career list. VanVleet is 10th with 104. VanVleet is 14th on the assists list with 282.
Season of the reunion
Wichita State plays five former Missouri Valley Conference members in its non-conference schedule, starting Friday when New Mexico State visits Koch Arena. A look at their history with the Shockers.
New Mexico State
MVC tenure: 1970-71 to 1982-83 (13 years)
Season to remember: The Aggies finished second in the MVC in 1975, one game behind Louisville. They went 20-7 overall and 11-3 in the MVC, good enough for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Lou Henson earned Coach of the Year honors and Richard Robinson and Jim Bostic made All-MVC.
Series with WSU: 14-all
Last meeting: WSU 72, New Mexico State 70 — Feb. 21, 1983 at New Mexico State
Shocker memory: The Shockers won the last meeting on Xavier McDaniel’s tip-in at the buzzer in Las Cruces.
MVC tenure: 1967-68 to 1972-73 (6)
Season to remember: The 1972-73 Tigers won the MVC title on their way to the Final Four and a loss to UCLA in the championship game. Larry Kenon totaled 25 double-doubles in 30 games to grab MVC Player of the Year honors.
Series with WSU: Memphis leads 10-9
Last meeting: Memphis 85, WSU 73 — Feb. 7, 1983 at Memphis
Shocker memory: Terry Benton scored 21 points and pulled down 24 rebounds in a 98-87 win over Memphis in 1971.
MVC tenure: 1934-35 to 1995-96 (62)
Season to remember: Tulsa won the 1994 MVC title before defeating UCLA and Oklahoma State in the NCAA Tournament.
Series with WSU: WSU leads 63-60
Last meeting: WSU 77, Tulsa 54 — Nov. 20, 2013 at Tulsa
Shocker memory: Xavier McDaniel made 15 of 19 shots for 34 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in an 84-82 win at Tulsa in the 1985 MVC Tournament championship.
MVC tenure: 1937-38 to 1942-43 and 1944-45 to 1973-74 (36)
Season to remember: The Billikens and center Ed Macauley won the NIT in 1948 after finishing second behind Oklahoma A&M in the MVC.
Series with WSU: Saint Louis leads 42-19
Last meeting: WSU 70, Saint Louis 65 — Dec. 1, 2013 at Saint Louis
Shocker memory: Dave Stallworth recorded his lone triple-double with 19 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in a 75-64 win over Saint Louis on Jan. 16, 1965.
MVC tenure: 1949-50 to 1956-57 (8)
Season to remember: Detroit’s best season in the MVC was its first. The Titans went 20-6 overall and 7-5 in the MVC to finish third, its only winning conference record in eight seasons as a member.
Series with WSU: WSU leads 13-7
Last meeting: WSU 94, Detroit 79 — Feb. 23, 2013 at Koch Arena
Shocker memory: Joe Stevens scored 31 points in a 99-79 win over Detroit on Jan. 30, 1956.
— Paul Suellentrop