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Shocker mailbag: Guess the starting five, a possible charity game, and Wichita State’s best newcomer

Darral Willis seems likely to be in the starting lineup on Nov. 10.
Darral Willis seems likely to be in the starting lineup on Nov. 10. The Wichita Eagle

The start of college basketball season is still about two weeks away, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get started.

I opened up my Twitter and Facebook and asked fans to send me their questions. If you didn’t get yours in this week, I’ll be making this a weekly feature during the season. So be on the look out for that.

Let’s get right to the first question.

I think Conner Frankamp, Zach Brown, and Shaq Morris (assuming he is healthy) are givens. I have been impressed with Wichita native and junior-college transfer Samajae Haynes-Jones and right now I think he’s likely to start in the backcourt with Frankamp. The coaching staff likes how the team looks with Frankamp off the ball, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Haynes-Jones initiate the offense and then the duo would have the ability to interchange at the guard positions. But don’t count out Austin Reaves. If he’s fully healthy, I would give him the advantage because he has a year in the system, but right now it looks like he’s still working his way back. As for the forward position to replace McDuffie, my best guess right now would be Darral Willis. He’s added to his range and Gregg Marshall was really complimentary of the work he’s put in this summer on his shot. So here’s what I’ll go with for the starting lineup against UMKC on Nov. 10, guessing today:

G — Samajae Haynes-Jones

G — Conner Frankamp

F — Zach Brown

F — Darral Willis

C — Shaquille Morris

From what I’ve heard, Wichita State had preliminary talks with Missouri State about playing some kind of exhibition. That obviously fell through when the Bears decided to pair up with Kansas State for a hurricane relief game. I don’t think a game with Creighton will materialize, but I do believe the program is still trying to find a partner to set an exhibition up with. It’s not a guarantee, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear an announcement soon about a game in the coming weeks. Wichita State is also playing Oral Roberts in a closed scrimmage next Saturday.

As a freshman, C.J. Keyser played in 25 games, coming off the bench in all of them and averaging 4.8 minutes. But he only played one minute in WSU’s final four games of the season when Marshall’s rotation shrunk. I think with the addition of Haynes-Jones, Keyser’s road to minutes will once again be blocked when this team is fully healthy. I’m sure Keyser will see minutes in the non-conference, especially for however long Shamet is on the shelf. But once the rotation is trimmed and the stakes are raised, it may be difficult for Keyser to crack the rotation.

After watching Reaves play at Shocker Madness, it was clear he’s still working back to where he was last season before the shoulder injury. It will take time and obviously he’s not ready for 20 minutes right now, but he has three weeks to work up to that. Wichita State would desperately need him ready if Shamet isn’t back in time for the Maui Invitational, but all signs are looking like Shamet will return in time for that tournament.

I was high on Haynes-Jones before I got to see him play in Shocker Madness. After watching him play, it confirmed what I thought: he’s still going to be the quickest player on the court, even at the Division I level. I covered his games when he was at East High and his first step back then embarrassed a lot of defenders. He can get his shot off against just about anybody and I think he’s going to be a real problem for the opposition this season. If he is able to channel his emotions into positive energy, then he could be a big factor right away and have the ability to break down defenses with dribble penetration. In terms of the biggest impact on a consistent basis, Haynes-Jones is the best bet. (But don’t sleep on freshman Asbjorn Midtgaard. His size gives something WSU it doesn’t have elsewhere.)

I would say the most improved is Willis. He’s really worked hard on his shot and showed off his range at Shocker Madness by knocking down 11 of 22 attempts in the three-point contest. Remember, Willis didn’t make a single three-pointer last season and only attempted one. He has the green light now from Marshall and I think that’s really going to diversify his game. Zach Brown is another candidate to see his production see a jump this season.

They have six scholarships to hand out and have non-binding commitments from guard Erik Stevenson and big men Isaiah Chandler, Morris Udeze, and Jaime Echenique. That leaves two slots to fill and I believe the staff has narrowed it down to about six or seven guys they are really going hard after. Three-star swing man Chance Moore was in the building at Shocker Madness and he would give WSU some length (he’s 6-foot-8) on the wing. The Shockers are also high on Alex Lomax, a coveted point guard prospect from Memphis. My guess is that you’ll see the staff try to go after a guard and a wing with these final two slots.

And as far as the FBI investigation goes? If you listen to Marshall, Shocker fans have nothing to worry about. At the AAC media day in Philadelphia, Marshall made it clear that the scandals fans are reading about in the news will not affect the Shockers.

It’s safe to say that Wichita State will have more than just two or three games to look forward to in conference play this season. All signs point toward the AAC being an improved conference this season, but there’s a reason why Wichita State is a consensus top-10 team this preseason as well. A road trip to UConn to start conference play is going to be an interesting one. I think the Cincinnati games are going to be all-out wars, so both of those are toss-ups. I think Central Florida, SMU, Houston, and Temple could all stay competitive with Wichita State, but I don’t necessarily see any from that group beating the Shockers at this point. If things fall into place, a 17-1 or 16-2 conference record could be in line. An undefeated run would be asking a lot. Taking anything more than three conference losses would be somewhat of a disappointment considering how high the expectations are for this season.

I haven’t heard much yet in terms of future scheduling. As I stated above, I think you can expect to see a charity game set up in the preseason. I think an interesting part about the move to the AAC will be to see how it affects non-conference scheduling. In the past, WSU had to schedule hard in the non-conference to make sure it gave itself a chance at an at-large bid. If things go according to plan in the AAC, that shouldn’t be the case anymore. I’m interested to see if Marshall will still retain such a challenging non-conference slate or if he dials it back in the coming years.

I think if Wichita State was completely healthy entering this season, it would be a no-brainer for Marshall to use a redshirt on Rod Brown. But with McDuffie expected to be out until December, WSU doesn’t really have a natural back-up to Zach Brown at the three. It would be a gamble to try to skate by without a backup until December when McDuffie returns. It’s doable, but my guess is that Marshall won’t roll the dice and will use Rod Brown early in the season to give the Shockers depth.

As for Midtgaard, I honestly believe he has the ability to help the Shockers right away. Maybe not for 15 minutes every game, but there will come a time when Wichita State needs his size in a highly-competitive game and I think Marshall will want that weapon in his arsenal. Ideally, Midtgaard would take the redshirt and develop. But I think he’s going to be able to help WSU win this season and that’s too valuable to give up when you have a team capable of competing for a national title. Even if he only helps you for a handful of games.

I haven’t had the chance to sit down and talk with coach Butler yet about his plan of action. But I think any coach will tell you that recruiting is going to be vital. Not necessarily bringing in higher-rated recruits, but identifying players who fit the system and can be developed by the coaching staff. Player development is always crucial and I think that’s the road to success. Hopefully I’ll have a more detailed answer after I’m able to speak with coach Butler.

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