Final thoughts from Canada: Frankamp’s defense, Kelly’s steadiness good signs for Wichita State

Wichita State’s Conner Frankamp dribbles against Quebec-Montreal on Saturday in Montreal. Frankamp led the Shockers with 19 points
Wichita State’s Conner Frankamp dribbles against Quebec-Montreal on Saturday in Montreal. Frankamp led the Shockers with 19 points

Let’s wrap up Canada.

The season is now all about the countdown to Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson referencing Canada and thanking Gregg Marshall for taking him off the hook for “Most Viewed Tirade” by a Missouri Valley Conference coach.

▪  You can spin any exhibition trip in a positive way. For WSU, it seems to have unfolded almost as well as could be planned.

The players got three wins, two in which they played well most of the time, to learn from and feed confidence. Coaches can sit on the video from a convincing defeat and two-plus quarters (vs. McGill) in which the Shockers didn’t play well. They can use those minutes to teach and remind the players.

This is, as I haven’t pointed out often enough, a team without scholarship seniors.

If nothing else, the 25-point loss to Carleton will serve as an example of what can happen when the opposition plays harder and smarter.

The Shockers are off until school starts later this month. They will resume individual workouts then. Practices begin again in late September.

“We got a lot better,” WSU sophomore Markis McDuffie said. “After that loss, we came together as a team. In the last two games we finished strong and we’re proud of ourselves for that.”

Injuries kept the trip from finishing with more success. Rauno Nurger missed the final game with a concussion, although he was on the bench and active. McDuffie said Wednesday’s game caused his knee injury to stiffen and he will consider surgery.

Freshmen Austin Reaves (shoulder) and C.J. Keyser (foot) did not play. Both would have gained tremendous experience from the trip (and its preceding practices). The Shockers are already deep, perhaps 10 deep depending on how you look at the roster. The freshmen have a lot of ground to make up when practices resume.

I would expect Reaves, who is doing everything save 5-on-5 practices, to be ready. Keyser hasn’t been cleared for practice.

▪  McDuffie’s return, after missing the first two games, helped immensely.

He is such a versatile player, perhaps the one Shocker who is effective in every area of the court. He can score in the lane, rebounds well, drives to the basket and shoots three-pointers. Defensively, he is just as valuable.

“More length and athleticism, more scoring,” WSU guard Landry Shamet said. “If there’s one thing he knows how to do, it’s find ways to score.”

▪  Conner Frankamp showed an increased willingness to play physical defense and coaches noticed.

He made himself a pest on dribble handoffs, which Heiar appreciated as a sign he’s improving his aggressiveness and concentration. Frankamp, several times, stuck his body in the middle of a screener trying to hand off the ball to disrupt the timing of the play. Frankamp’s not going to be a physical force on defense, but he can make himself valuable as an irritant and a smart team defender.

Few things are more annoying to the opposition than giving up a three to a great shooter and then watching that great shooter compete on the defensive end.

“I told him ‘Conner, you blew up three or four dribble handoffs and I’ve never seen you do that before,’” Heiar said. “He looked at me and said ‘Coach, I’m trying.’”

▪  I don’t know what that font is on WSU’s practice jerseys. Let’s hope it doesn’t make a transition to the game jerseys.

▪  WSU’s offense struggled in half-court situations, which shouldn’t necessarily be a surprise in August. The 24-second clock played a role. So did the revolving lineups. So did McDuffie’s absence. He would have been a nice end-of-the-clock option against Carleton. Shaq Morris’ struggles played a role.

For much of the trip, WSU needed to press and play fast to score. That’s not bad. It will need to run its sets and motion offense more effectively.

Heiar saw improvement in the second half against McGill and in Wednesday’s game against IndiSport All-Stars.

“The guys did a better job of moving the ball, being aggressive, getting to the free-throw line, making extra passes, playing inside-out,” Heiar said.

Morris’ play in the lane and baskets by Darral Willis helped immensely. When the Shockers struggled, they often needed the relief that post scoring (or passing) can provide. The big men needed to do more. So did the guards.

“That’s we what kept stressing to them,” Heiar said. “That’s what we stressed in the film session, how many times the bigs were open down there.”

Morris can make jump shots. He made two threes on the trip. He needs to start his game with post moves and tough inside scoring. That is where he can stress defenses the most, drawing fouls and passing. Defenses will see it as a relief if they can get him to take 15-foot jumpers, almost regardless of whether or not he makes them.

“That’s a huge body down there,” Shamet said. “When he gets the ball inside, defenses are going to have to honor that. He’s a willing passer, so he knows how to play with the guys on the perimeter.”

▪  Even when things went wrong on the trip, juniors Zach Brown and Rashard Kelly usually provided a measure of stability.

After committing six turnovers in the first three games, Brown handled the ball more carefully and sparked the offense with smart drives and foul shots. He went 23 of 27 at the line in four games. Kelly rebounded, took charges and shot efficiently.

“Rashard Kelly — probably the most consistent, most solid contributor in all areas of the system at both ends of the court,” Heiar said.

▪  Shamet shot poorly from three-point range (5 for 20), but went 20 for 40 overall and showed a good ability to drive and score at the rim. As Heiar pointed out, it’s easy to think of Shamet as a veteran. He played well early in his freshman season and Marshall talked about him often during the season as WSU’s top newcomer before a foot injury ended his season in late November.

Shamet played three games and then didn’t resume basketball drills until mid-February. Even then, ankle stiffness kept him from getting the full benefit of that time. While he’s been around for a season, the injury limited his experience.

“Everybody looks at Landry like he’s a junior,” Heiar said. “He’s a freshman. He got better and better every game, every possession. More confident. More competitive.”

Paul Suellentrop: 316-269-6760, @paulsuellentrop

Wichita State in Canada

  • WSU 107, University of Quebec at Montreal 58
  • Carleton University 100, WSU 75
  • WSU 77, McGill University 71
  • WSU 94, IndiSport All-Stars 79