▪ Wichita State started the season with Houston expectations. Those haven’t changed. They are on hold for a developmental phase here in Orlando.
The Shockers want to win. They also are in position where they are coaxing young players through times they aren’t intended to weather. On Thursday, freshman Markis McDuffie excelled. Freshman Ty Taylor missed 9 of 10 shots. Regardless, the Shockers know they’re going to need both again on Friday.
“They’re kind of going into battle without a sword,” WSU senior Ron Baker said. “I’m trying to encourage them. Coach is challenging them. I’m trying to put good words in their mind to have the confidence to be out there.”
Taylor, a lefty, is a good shooter. He’s got to learn which shots are good for him. On Thursday, he probably learned lofting shots off the glass over 6-foot-10 opponents is for another day. Taylor’s job, as I’m sure he was reminded, is to run the team and look for shots second. The task for him is to separate scoring from playing well. He can play well without scoring and that is a mind-set not all basketball players are comfortable with.
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“Tyrone, he didn’t shoot it as well as he wanted to,” Baker said. “He’s going to have to be out there (Friday). He’s going to have to play. I’m going to keep encouraging him. The shots are going to come, as long as Ty keeps playing aggressive and the way we need him to play. He can make those shots he missed tonight, and he knows that.”
▪ Wichita State’s post position has changed dramatically since the start of the season. Sophomore Shaq Morris started in the exhibition game against Hawaii Pacific. Since then, he played eight minutes against Charleston Southern, 12 against Tulsa, 15 against Emporia State and three against Southern California in Thursday’s 72-69 loss.
His mental errors are piling up, from losing his man to give up a dunk against Tulsa to Thursday’s turnover, which rooted him to the bench. Morris is in his third season in the program and WSU has to get 15-20 good minutes from him. All reports put him on the right track after off-season workouts. So far, it isn’t translating to games.
Senior Bush Wamukota is on the upswing after 17 strong minutes against a talented Trojans frontline. He made 2 of 3 shots (missing a dunk) and grabbed six rebounds.
“He’s playing with a lot of energy,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “He’s rebounding it well and trying to defend and run our system.”
▪ Upsets definited the first day of the AdvoCare Invitational. The Shockers fell. So did Notre Dame, to a talented and experience team from Monmouth. I’ve covered 10 of these and is one of the better fields, top to bottom, I’ve encountered. Seven of the eight teams, when full strength, are NCAA/NIT quality and Alabama is no embarrassment.
The Shockers will play either Notre Dame or Iowa on Sunday. Neither will be an easy task. It does give them a chance to grab a quality victory.
▪ Which recent tournament featured WSU’s strongest field?
Three previous stand out.
The 2008 Old Spice Classic (now AdvoCare) sent six teams to the NCAA Tournament (Tennessee, Maryland, Michigan State, Siena, Gonzaga, Oklahoma State) with the Spartans in the Final Four.
The 2010 Maui Invitational sent four teams to the NCAA Tournament (UConn, Kentucky, Michigan State, Washington) with UConn winning the title and Kentucky joining it in the Final Four. WSU won the NIT.
The 2011 Puerto Rico Tip-off sent six of its eight teams to the NCAAs (Colorado, WSU, Alabama, Temple, Purde, Iona).
The message? ESPN-owned tournaments get the best fields.
▪ Monmouth, picked second in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, is one of the low-key stories of the season. The Hawks won at UCLA and now own a 70-68 win over Notre Dame. They controlled most of the game, before a late Irish rally, and then regrouped to finish off the win.
“I’m very excited that our kids believed in each other, that they felt like they belonged on the court,” Monmouth coach King Rice said. “The good thing is we can still play better, and we’ll probably have to in this tournament.”
▪ If you get a chance, watch the Dayton-Monmouth game (8:30 p.m., ESPN2). The Flyers brought by far the largest crowd, their pep band, cheerleaders and mascots. Their games are home games.
One reason so many Flyers fans came (many making a 14-hour drive) is the possibility of a matchup with Xavier on Sunday. The schools are located 60 miles apart and have played 158 times. They have not played since 2013, after which Xavier left the Atlantic 10 for the Big East.
If those schools play Sunday, expect hundreds more Dayton fans to flock to Orlando.
Xavier 64, Alabama 45
USC 72, Wichita State 69
Monmouth 70, Notre Dame 68
Dayton 82, Iowa 77
Alabama vs. WSU, 11 a.m. (ESPN3.com)
Xavier vs. USC, 1:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
Notre Dame vs. Iowa, 6 p.m. (ESPN3.com)
Monmouth vs. Dayton, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
Seventh place, 9 a.m. (ESPN3.com)
Third place, 11:30 a.m. (ESPN2)
Championship, 3:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
Fifth place, 6 p.m. (ESPNU)