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Shocker Q&A: Wondering about NCAA bids, Willis and more

Wichita State junior Darral Willis played a season-low seven minutes and didn’t score against Drake.
Wichita State junior Darral Willis played a season-low seven minutes and didn’t score against Drake. The Wichita Eagle

Thanks for the questions. Here we go:

This is no mystery. Who plays the most minutes?

Those are, with some exceptions for foul trouble or position, the players coach Gregg Marshall gets the most out of.

Landry Shamet, Markis McDuffie and Conner Frankamp are all fairly close in minutes, because the Shockers get a great deal of their structure on offense and defense from these three.

Shamet and Frankamp run things and right now there’s not anybody on the bench who provides the same sort of consistency and comfort. McDuffie is the team’s most versatile player, especially when he is focused and under control on offense.

I’d put the juniors in the next group — Shaq Morris, Zach Brown, Rauno Nurger and Rashard Kelly — for their skills and steady play. Losing any of those four is a blow because of their experience.

MVC play is challenging Darral Willis and Daishon Smith to different degrees. Freshman Austin Reaves, when healthy, gives WSU a lot in a relatively limited amount of playing time.

Morris is the player whose minutes are often not correlated to his potential importance. He’s the Shocker big man who can cause opponents the most matchup problems and, when not in foul trouble, make the biggest difference. While he might not rank high in minutes, he might be the one Shocker you’d hate most to lose to a long-term injury.

Unclear. I’ll ask again today. Reaves has been termed day to day. The fact that he didn’t travel to Wednesday’s game at Drake makes me think it’s unlikely he will play Saturday.

See the minutes played for who buys in. Recently, we’ve seen Rashard Kelly and Zach Brown continue to play well by doing a lot of solid, smart things that Marshall demands. The fact that WSU is 20-4 tells me most of the team buys in to a large degree.

I would think, in that scenario, that the MVC needs Illinois State to win the tournament. While its strength of schedule and RPI are better than WSU’s, Illinois State has three harmful losses — Murray State, Tulsa and San Francisco.

WSU, in that scenario, has one good win (over Illinois State), but no losses outside the top 50 or the RPI or kenpom.com.

If the MVC gets an at-large bid, it will be a sign the bottom of the at-large pool is weak. Neither team has a win over an opponent that is a lock to make the NCAA Tournament, which is a tough way to go. Lunardi’s projection evidently reflects that. Michael Beller at SI.com also has WSU in his last four in. Jerry Palm is dismissive of the Valley’s chances, and he’s not alone.

If WSU shows up on March 6 with a 29-5 record, the selection committee will take a hard look. Then it’s up to how other teams finish their conference tournaments.

What might help? The Valley needs teams such as Marquette (2-3 in its last five), Kansas State (2-3) and Iowa State (2-3) to slide. If those type of teams don’t present a strong case, it might help WSU or Illinois State.

How painful would it be to go 29-5, schedule as solidly as WSU did in November and December and not get in? That’s foundation-shaking stuff. I think 29-5 gives WSU a chance. How much of a chance depends on how other teams fare.

If he plays well, he’ll play more minutes. When Morris and Rauno Nurger play well, it affects Willis’ minutes.

It wouldn’t surprise me, although I haven’t asked yet, if Willis is worn down a bit (and this may be affecting Daishon Smith). The physical demands are different than in junior college and he doesn’t seem as bouncy as he did a few weeks ago.

This is the first time they’ve traveled this much, played this much against equal athletes and worked this much. WSU started in June and added 10 practices to the workload, plus four games, because of its trip to Canada.

It was just last week that Willis made 7 of 8 shots and scored 15 points against SIU.

Conference play is a lot about adjusting and adjusting again. There wasn’t as much of a book on Willis in November and December as there is now.

While plenty of people question the talent in the MVC, few question the coaching. Teams are scouting and planning for Willis and faces a lot of double teams. Illinois State might not feel the need to double him as much, so perhaps he can get rolling again.

Outdoors writer Michael Pearce says watch the migration of ducks and geese. They are heading north now, because of the availability of food. They may come back and return again. Their habits, he says, are the best indicator around.

A lot has to happen, much of which rarely happens, so I’d say the chances are not great.

Conferences rarely add a non-football member to a football conference. The American, in the fall, seemed focused on improving its football product to compete with the Power 5, not expansion to help basketball.

Getting people to speak on the record (or off) is difficult with this topic. The moment I can get something concrete, I’ll write about it.

Some people (in and around the American) tell me to take the possibility of the American seriously. Others differ. I would say the fact Jon Rothstein’s original report wasn’t followed up at national or local levels around American cities seems to indicate it’s not a front-burner issue. If we get a university president or athletic director on the record talking about WSU, that will be a significant step.

Want to be optimistic? We’ve seen schools change conferences with almost no warning or notice in the media. It is possible to keep it quiet.

If you’re betting, it seems more likely WSU will be in the MVC in five years than elsewhere. It won’t be for lack of trying and that’s been WSU’s goal all along. Things change quickly and its name is out there.

Paul Suellentrop: 316-269-6760, @paulsuellentrop

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