What coach Gregg Marshall decides to do with 7-foot freshman Asbjorn Midtgaard this season will be one of the more fascinating storylines early in the season for Wichita State basketball.
Ideally, Midtgaard would take a redshirt season and become an understudy to deep frontcourt of Rashard Kelly, Darral Willis, Shaquille Morris, and Rauno Nurger. This would be followed by sprinkling him into the rotation the next season and giving him as much time as possible to transition to Division I and American basketball.
But time isn’t a luxury Marshall has. Kelly, Willis, Morris, and Nurger will all be gone next season, leaving Midtgaard as the only returning post player on scholarship. Marshall has help on the way, but none will have the advantage of training with the Shockers this season like Midtgaard.
So that begs the question — what do you do with Midtgaard this season? It comes down to how valuable Marshall feels the on-court time Midtgaard could have in blowouts would be compared to saving his freshman year of eligibility and giving him four more years to make an impact with the Shockers.
It’s unclear right now which way Marshall is leaning and that can be answered at a later time. For now, let’s look at what the Shockers might have in this Danish big man.
The good news: Midtgaard didn’t start playing competitive basketball in Denmark until he was 14 and didn’t start lifting weights until he was 19. More good news: He comes to Wichita State as a 20-year-old freshman who will have four (maybe five) years to bulk up a frame that is already 7 feet, 270 pounds. Imagine what he will look like when he’s a 23- or 24-year-old senior.
It’s clear Midtgaard is going to be a project on the offensive end, but he has the size and athleticism to become a big-time rebounding and defensive presence. You can learn post moves and improve footwork, but you can’t teach being 7-foot, 270.
For the past three years, Midtgaard has been playing against older professionals in the Danish League. After two so-so seasons, Midtgaard saw his productivity increase last season to 8.9 points on 56-percent shooting, 69-percent free-throw shooting, 6.4 rebounds, and 0.8 blocks in 18.7 minutes per game.
So what will translate to Wichita State?
Midtgaard should be an above-average rebounder right away. As Kelly put it, “he’s seven foot and right there at the rim” so he should be a good rebounder.
On defense, there will be a learning curve. The speed of the game will be difficult to adjust to. Teams will surely want to make him defend the pick-and-roll to draw him away from the rim, so he will have to prove himself in that chess game. He will have to work on moving side-to-side.
Midtgaard has never posted crazy per-minute block numbers in the Danish League and it’s unlikely he’ll turn into a great shot-blocker at Wichita State, but he doesn’t have to necessarily be one. His size alone could deter teams from driving and if his 7-foot-4 wingspan can at least alter shots, then that will allow WSU’s wing defenders even more leeway squeezing ball handlers along the perimeter.
Here’s a video of Nurger from last season playing the kind of defense Midtgaard could provide.
It begins with Nurger’s man setting a screen near the left wing. Landry Shamet takes away the option to dribble to the middle of the floor and forces the ball handler away and into a lurking Nurger. Shamet fights through the screen to stay on the ball handler’s hip and Nurger is there to stave off the penetration.
Nurger knows his coverage mark typically can’t shoot from the outside, so leaving him open at the top of the key is OK. When the pass goes back to his man, Nurger recovers. He chops his feet on the close-out and when his man puts the ball on the floor and attempts to drive past, Nurger keeps his feet moving and lets his length do the rest as the play results in a turnover. This is what Midtgaard could look like.
On offense, I’ll use Nurger again since he is 6-10 and the closest to Midtgaard’s height on the current roster.
A common theme I heard from the team before Friday’s practice was that they have been impressed with Midtgaard’s mobility for his size. He might not be very quick side-to-side, but he can run the floor.
Above is a video of the type of play that could become a hallmark of Midtgaard over time with WSU. It’s a clip of Nurger racing down the floor after a turnover, out-hustling his man, catching a ball in transition and finishing (and shoutout to the 6-9 Kelly for the look-ahead pass). If Midtgaard has the ability to run the court and the coordination to pull off something similar to this, this could be a way to make an early impact on offense.
From the film I’ve seen, Midtgaard will be limited offensively early in his career. He isn’t likely going to be a post you can throw it into on the low block and tell him get a basket. But that’s OK. If he can run the court and use his strength around the basket chasing offensive rebound put-backs, then his offensive game will be enough to make him a two-way force for Wichita State.
How quick will that day come? We’ll find out in time.