Wichita State starts its march toward March

Wichita State's Ron Baker, left, and Fred VanVleet pressure Illinois State's Anthony Beane in the second half at Koch Arena. (Feb. 11, 2014)
Wichita State's Ron Baker, left, and Fred VanVleet pressure Illinois State's Anthony Beane in the second half at Koch Arena. (Feb. 11, 2014) The Wichita Eagle

Wichita State practiced basketball for around two hours on Thursday. The Shockers started their “official” practices on Friday afternoon, reminding us that the recent changes in NCAA rules robbed October of much of its meaning.

Teams basically practice all year now. For much of September, coaches could choose between practicing in small groups and practicing as a team for a short amount of time. This week, WSU saved its weekly allotment for Thursday, practiced, and did it again Friday. The difference is, starting Friday, WSU has 42 days (before its opening regular-season game) to get in 30 practices (exhibition game included) as an entire team.

The big difference, coach Gregg Marshall said, is he no longer feels quite as rushed as he did earlier in the fall. When the Shockers do their short segments in the summer and fall (usually three or four players working with a coach), they are normally waiting in the tunnel for one group to finish and the next group hustles right on and gets to work to preserve every second of time for instruction.

“We’ll be able to go a little slower,” he said. “We can get a little more detailed now. When you do a 40-minute practice, you’re really rushing. Now we can slow it down and actually field a question from time to time.”

Where are they starting:

▪  WSU is ranked No. 10 by The Sporting News; No. 7 by Blue Ribbon and No. 7 by Athlon’s. You can count on WSU grabbing a similar ranking when the Associated Press poll comes out later this month. If Vegas takes odds on an MVC favorite, raid the college fund.

▪  Guards Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker are leading the preseason honors. Both are on All-America lists in preseason magazines. MVC media day is Oct. 28 and they will continue to grab fall accolades.

Looking at the Shockers by position


Most of the questions are contained in this group. If you want to look long-range, the development of the bigs may likely mean the difference between a team that can win the MVC and a team that can advance to the second weekend or deeper in the NCAA Tournament. At the start of last season, I would have said that a team starting Chadrack Lufile would not ascend to a No. 2 ranking and earn a No. 1 seed. If the WSU coaches can do that with Lufile and Kadeem Coleby, they can get the most out of this group.

WSU is less experienced than last season at the center and power forward (only Darius Carter played last season at WSU) and less physically imposing. The Shockers don’t roll out the overwhelming scoring skills and physical ability of NBA player Cleanthony Early. This group will need time to adjust and a tougher non-conference schedule will provide a good test.

Carter will be solid and could develop into a star after a good summer playing top competition in an elite camp and a foreign tour. He needs to carry a large scoring load. Junior center Bush Wamukota appears to be a key figure. If he can adjust quickly and give WSU solid rebounding and defense at center, it will free Carter to play more power forward. Wamukota isn’t as physically imposing as Ehimen Orukpe, but he catches the ball better and can provide some of the same assets.

Freshmen Rashard Kelly and Rauno Nurger made strong impressions during the summer and fall. Kelly is an aggressive rebounder who is strong and quick. He will play significant minutes. Nurger is a good shooter and a battler. He may be able to provide some of the pick-and-pop scoring that Early did so well.

Marshall feels a little better about his depth at center this season compared to last season. Carter is improved after a season in the program. Redshirt freshman Shaq Morris owns a year of experience in practice. While Lufile and Coleby each had a year of NCAA Division I experience, Wamukota and Nurger offer more potential.

“We’ve got four guys that can play (center),” Marshall said. “We’ll have to figure out a way to get 40 minutes out of that group. Upside, the two new guys (Wamukota and Nurger) have more upside. Now, the other two (Lufile and Coleby) were fifth-year seniors.”

It won’t surprise me to see junior Evan Wessel play some power forward, especially early in the season. He will be under-sized, but you can count on him to play hard and be in the right places. His shooting will determine how much he plays and he worked on that in the off-season.

You can read about Morris here.


Corey Henderson Jr. and Ria’n Holland are similar players. Both are good shooters who need to learn how to play point guard. The Shockers have Baker to back up VanVleet, but it would be ideal if one of those freshman stepped up and joined the rotation.

VanVleet, Baker and Cotton will give WSU a chance to win every game and make life easier for the big men. The Shockers will play efficient, error-free basketball and their defense will take most teams out of their comfort level. It was common to see them, especially VanVleet, working on individual skills on their own this summer. On Wednesday, the Shockers lifted and then had no more obligations because of the impending full practices. Baker grabbed two basketballs and headed to the practice gym. If there are improvements to be made, those three will find them.

With little experience behind that trio, an injury would be a major problem. There are 13 scholarship Shockers and eight have never played in an NCAA Division I game.