Wichita State has played 26 games so far this season and lost four of them.
History tells you the Shockers are a team capable of making a March run. They are a deep and talented team with a mastermind coach, Gregg Marshall, who has a way of pulling the best out of his team.
So why the doubt? Why is there this feeling that WSU has no margin for error and that a slip-up — Sunday at Loyola or somewhere else along the line — could spell doom?
It’s because the Shockers are rolling through the talent-challenged Missouri Valley Conference. It’s tough to make folks take notice when you’re beating the likes of Missouri State and Bradley.
So you have a really good team in a really not-so-good conference. Wichita State looks capable of crashing the NCAA Tournament but is also in danger of crashing and burning.
This is a 10-deep roster with players of all shapes, sizes and abilities.
▪ Landry Shamet — His move to the point guard position has been one of the biggest keys to the season. Shamet, probably best as a shooting guard, has nonetheless performed well at the point, even though his scoring has perhaps suffered some. After reaching double figures in eight straight games from Dec. 22 through Jan. 11, Shamet has gotten there just twice in the past six. But he has an impressive 81-29 assist/turnover ratio. Shamet oozes leadership and toughness and is the closest thing the Shockers have to that three-headed monster Baker/VanVleet/Wessel.
▪ Markis McDuffie — The most athletically-gifted Shocker is still experiencing some growing pains as a sophomore. McDuffie is 8 of 28 from the field in WSU’s past five games but can be, and should be, dynamic. Even as his shooting has dropped, McDuffie had back-to-back games of 14 rebounds on the road against Bradley and Drake and is the Shockers’ leading scorer (11.8 ppg) and rebounder (5.7).
▪ Darral Willis — A 6-foot-9 juco transfer, Willis averaged 14.3 points during a nine-game stretch from Dec. 28-Jan. 24. He’s been more down than up of late, but did have 10 points and four rebounds Thursday night in a win over Missouri State. Willis should look to pass out of the post more often. He has only 17 assists in 26 games.
▪ Shaq Morris — The big guy can go off, as he did in back-to-back wins over Indiana State (17 points, 10 rebounds) and Southern Illinois (24 points, eight rebounds) last month. Consistency, consistency, consistency. The 6-8, 275-pound Morris must hear that word in his sleep. If there’s a player on this roster who defines how far the Shockers go, it’s Morris.
▪ Zach Brown — There were signs earlier that Brown could be an offensive force, as well as a defensive one. But after averaging 10 points through 13 games, Brown went through a 11-game stretch in which he didn’t reach double figures but has rebounded with 22 points in the Shockers’ past two games. And he’s the team’s best defender which, in the Marshall Era, is the highest of praise.
▪ Conner Frankamp — The redshirt junior guard had us all shaking our heads earlier in the season because he just wasn’t living up to the expectations that surrounded him. Lately, though, Frankamp has been Frankamp, making 19 of 32 three-point attempts in the past seven games and averaging 11.6 points per game during that span.
▪ Rauno Nurger — A Nurger three-point make — and the 6-10 junior has made 11 of 24 — is a delightful thing to see because, well, it so delights Nurger. He holds his hands up, smiles and glances toward his teammates on the Shockers’ bench, who have ceased being surprised. Nurger has been an unexpected bright spot for the Shockers by filling in admirably on the front line and making 59 percent of his shots.
▪ Daishon Smith — The quickest and fastest Shocker guard had one of the most impressive plays of the season with his drive and dunk late against Oklahoma in December. But Smith’s performance and playing time have been sporadic since. He’s a dyanamic guard, especially defensively. The Shockers could definitely use a Smith resurgence down the stretch.
▪ Austin Reaves — The 6-5 freshman has had his share of moments but has had trouble staying healthy because of balky shoulders and a frame that is still under construction. Reaves, though, has the tools to be a special player at Wichita State. For now, though, there are “ifs” in the equation and most revolve around his health.
▪ Rashard Kelly — Kelly took over a game at Drake on Feb. 1, leading the Shockers to a come-from-behind win, and has been on both ends of the floor over the past month. He’s this team’s Evan Wessel, a player gravitates toward dirty work. Every Marshall team, it seems, has at least one of those guys.
- When: 3 p.m. Sunday
- Where: Gentile Center, Chicago
- Records: WSU 22-4, 12-1 MVC; LU 16-10, 6-7
- Radio: 103.7-FM
- TV: ESPNU