Pregame update: No. 13 Wichita State at Evansville

Wichita State’s Evan Wessel, left, and Rauno Nurger pressure Southern Illinois’ Sean O'Brien into a turnover in the second half at Koch Arena on Wednesday. (Jan. 14, 2014)
Wichita State’s Evan Wessel, left, and Rauno Nurger pressure Southern Illinois’ Sean O'Brien into a turnover in the second half at Koch Arena on Wednesday. (Jan. 14, 2014) The Wichita Eagle

▪  This might be the game we get a better feel for Shaq Morris’ future. The Shockers need him — really need him — to bang against Aces center Egidijus Mockevicius, a double-double machine. Darius Carter can’t waste too many fouls or too much energy against the bigger Mockevicius.

If you remember what Drake’s Jacob Enevold (12 points, 15 rebounds) did to the Shockers, you are rightfully concerned about what Mockevicius might accomplish if Morris isn’t in a good state of mind. Morris, a 6-foot-7 freshman, made encouraging strides since sitting out the Drake game and watching on TV while Enevold rampaged around the lane for five offensive rebounds. Morris can score, shows a nice passing touch, blocks shots and displays a bit of nasty and emotion when properly motivated.

Those are all things the Shockers need, especially against the better teams.

Morris slipped a bit in Sunday’s win over Southern Illinois. He played 11 minutes, but coach Gregg Marshall’s wasn’t happy with his effort.

“I don’t think he was quite as inspired as he’s been, and we need him to be more inspired on Saturday, for sure,” Marshall said. “(He) didn’t play with verve, vigor, vitality and that’s something you’ve got to do. He had a possession in the second half where he didn’t do anything on a ball screen. He kind of just stood there. He didn’t contest the shot. He didn’t box out. I think he’ll bounce back. I have a lot of faith in him.”

Morris appears to be generally on the right track. Coaches and teammates are encouraged that he is practicing well, playing well and seeing rewards for his efforts. An important role on an excellent team is right there for the taking.

Those same coaches and teammates want to see Morris do it over the long haul, even when things get rough. Morris knows all eyes are on him, some of them expecting him to fail. Most are rooting for him and they see success so close. Classes start next week and that’s another landmark. He’s made these improvements while basketball is his sole focus. Can he keep it up when he gets busier and academics demand his time?

Morris can give WSU a big push against a tough opponent on Saturday. The Shockers need to be able to count on him in those situations the rest of the season.

▪  WSU probably doesn’t want to get in a shootout with the Aces. They are an excellent shooting team, and scary good in their home gym. Evansville is shooting 53.7 percent at home and winning games by an average of 15.7 points.

▪  Here is your pronunciation guide for the Aces. Follow along with the TV and radio guys and grade their work:

Egidijus Mockevicius: EE-gid-EE-us muh-SKAH-VICH-us

Mislav Brzoja: MEE-sh-lahv bro-ZOY-uh

Christian Benzon: BEN-sin

▪  Brzoja is a transfer from Villanova who will be among the favorites for MVC Newcomer of the Year. He is an aggressive player who is big enough (6-6, 215) to play forward and skilled enough to play on the perimeter, drive to the basket and draw fouls. He is the perfect MVC swingman and gives the Aces a much-needed option when Mockevicius or D.J. Balentine are rolling.

▪  Curious about Evansville? Here’s my look at the place from last season’s MVC Travel Channel.

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