I spent the early part of the week looking ahead and skulking in parking garages under cover of darkness while working on stories about the AAC.
Now it’s time for a look back and ahead for Wichita State basketball.
▪ Accountability time:
My preseason read on Wichita State turned out to be about half-wrong and half-close.
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I distinctly remember a conversation with radio voice Mike Kennedy when I said I thought the non-conference schedule might be a bit overwhelming for the Shockers. I also expected an unexpected loss or two in Missouri Valley Conference play, perhaps ending with a 15-3 or 14-4 MVC record.
Kennedy said, “This team isn’t going 14-4.”
Wichita State’s non-conference performance was a positive, even though several opponents fell short of expectations and the Shockers dropped three games that could have made their NCAA Tournament seeding better. The November Shockers, even when they didn’t play well, deserved time to find their way.
The loss at Intrust Bank Arena to Oklahoma State was disappointing because of its margin, and because the Cowboys started 0-6 in the Big 12. If there’s a single defensible outcome that hurt WSU’s seed, that 93-76 loss is it.
Wins at Colorado State and Oklahoma helped, but neither of those opponents grew into serious NCAA contenders. The Sooners were a big disappointment with an 11-20 record. Getting them on the schedule is a major bonus regardless, but it fell far short of expectations.
The Shockers, with few exceptions, dominated the MVC with a share of the regular-season title and a margin of victory of 19.8 points. Add the tournament title to the list and the Shockers achieved as much in January and February (and early March) as any team outside of the 2014 unbeatens.
▪ My MVC preseason picks: 1. Wichita State, 2. Illinois State, 3. Northern Iowa, 4. Missouri State, 5. Indiana State, 6. Loyola, 7. Southern Illinois, 8. Evansville, 9. Bradley, 10. Drake
▪ How the MVC finished: T1. Illinois State and WSU, T3. UNI and SIU, 5. Loyola, T6. MSU and BU, 8. UE, T10. Indiana State and Drake.
I missed significantly on SIU and Indiana State.
▪ Ken Pomeroy puts Wichita State in his top five for 2018.
▪ We will look back on Landry Shamet’s move to point guard in mid-January as the defining factor for this season. His play there allowed other players to find their best spots, most notably Conner Frankamp at shooting guard.
It also helped Zach Brown and Rashard Kelly concentrate on their best skills of defense, rebounding and energy. Shamet, as the season wore on, became a better scorer and leader to help those juniors. Brown and Kelly took on more of the leadership roles and showed that playing time can increase without scoring big.
Finally, Shaq Morris excelled over the season’s final eight weeks. In the MVC, no team matched his size and skill. Again in the NCAA Tournament, he showed that he can play with other top big men.
After the loss to Kentucky, Morris talked about how his experience helps and he listed some of the big men he played against, some of whom are in the NBA. I don’t know if Morris is an NBA player — his age and height may work against him — but I’d give it more thought now than I would have in January.
Regardless, he has grown into a good college big man and if he continues to improve he is on track for a monster senior season.
▪ With WSU’s top 12 scorers eligible to return, there won’t be as much mystery to the off-season. We know the basic parameters for skills and roles.
The off-season will be about improving those skills. Juniors Darral Willis and Daishon Smith made important contributions and had moments when they played like starters. Both need to be more consistent and seven months of work, if the past is an indication, should help.
Games against Dayton and Kentucky showed the Shockers need more depth to play against top competition. That will be important next season in Maui. If the Shockers want to grab a better seed in the NCAA Tournament, players such as Willis and Smith need to help that effort in non-conference games against quality opponents.
Willis is the most left-handed dominant scorer I’ve seen and if he can make his right hand merely average, it’s a big step. His left-handed moves and scoring touch are excellent. His defense, always the weak spot, should also improve during his senior season.
Smith owns the athletic tools (and he made 38.4 percent of his threes) to contribute more. He should understand the system and his place in it, especially with regards to turnovers, next season. He committed 39 turnovers in 536 minutes. Shamet committed 39 in 960; Frankamp 24 in 861.
Minutes in the backcourt will be at a premium next season with Shamet and Frankamp returning. As long as they shoot crazy numbers from three-point range and take care of the ball, they will both play big minutes. Then there’s the addition of Hutchinson Community College guard Samajae Haynes-Jones.
▪ I probably enjoyed Frankamp’s improvement more than any other development this season.
It’s clear he felt a lot of pressure returning to Wichita. Playing alongside Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet is easy in some ways and hard in others.
Shocker fans love their hometown players and it was heartening to see Frankamp play so well over the season’s final eight weeks. He turned that arena-pressure into cheers over that time and played a major role in Wichita State’s strong close.
Coming home comes with challenges, especially after starting his career at Kansas, and it was good to see Frankamp set himself up for a strong senior season.
▪ A few of the records or statistical marks set this season:
Wichita State’s average of 81 points is the highest since the 1982-83 team averaged 82.3. It’s the first MVC school to average 80-plus since Tulsa (83.4) in 1993-94.
WSU’s total of 2,916 points is No. 2 in MVC history behind Indiana State’s 2,952 in 1979.
The Shockers made 310 three-pointers, a school record. That ties Drake (2007-08) for third in MVC history behind Bradley’s 349 (2007) and Bradley’s 346 (2008).
Shamet ended the season with a streak of threes in 25 straight games. Frankamp’s streak is at 22. Ron Baker is first on WSU’s list with a 27-game streak in 2014-15. Baker also has a 25-game streak, now tied with Shamet in second.
Shamet’s 72 threes are a a Shocker freshman record. That total is tied for third in MVC history.
WSU’s 23 80-point games is a school record, topping by one the mark set in 1978-79.
Morris totaled 35 blocks and his 96 for his career ranks eighth at WSU.