That was not the Wichita State team that blew through five opponents to start the 2016-17 season.
But Louisville was not like those five inferior opponents, either. The Cardinals took it to the Shockers on Thursday in every way. If WSU had grown overconfident after winning games by an average of 36.4 points, Louisville slapped the Shocks back into reality. The Cardinals beat WSU 62-52 in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament Thursday afternoon.
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Wichita State had trouble finding good shots and missed most of the ones it found. The Shockers’ defense scrambled enough to make it a game during most of the final 15 minutes, but the offense never found a rhythm. And I’m not sure how hard Wichita State’s players looked.
Time after time, Louisville made an extra pass to find an open shooter. That rarely happened for the Shockers, who shot 31.6 percent overall and made 6 of 22 three-point attempts. To keep with the terrible-shooting theme, WSU was 10 of 18 from the free-throw line.
The Cardinals guard. Too often, though, Wichita State made Louisville’s job on the defensive end too easy by chucking up ill-advised shots.
That was especially true during an awful first half, when the Shockers scored 17 points and fell behind by 16 at halftime.
That 10-player rotation that everyone has been talking about? It disappeared.
No Wichita State player who took more than one shot made at least half of them. Shaq Morris and Markis McDuffie, who scored 10 apiece, were 7 of 20 from the floor.
McDuffie, in particular, played recklessly on offense. He wasn’t alone. There was limited ball movement and even though the Shockers had a better second half, scoring 35 points, they never got in sync.
How disappointing is this defeat?
Louisville, after all, is the nation’s 10th-ranked team and is coached by Rick Pitino. So it’s not as if Wichita State lost to Drake.
Still, the first half malaise was noticeable and troubling. It’s not like a Gregg Marshall-coached team to rest on laurels or to rest at all. You can be assured that while fans and classmates might have been patting the Shockers’ players on the back for a remarkable start to the season, Marshall was looking for ways to keep everyone’s feet planted on the ground.
That job should be easier now.
The Shockers have to play smarter than they did against Louisville, whose superior size won the day. The Cardinals have offensive issues of their own, but they’re easy to hide when your opponent can manage only 52 points.
Remember, Wichita State had been averaging 91 points through five games. And the Shockers were going against a Louisville team that needed overtime late Wednesday night to beat Old Dominion. There was a notion that the Cardinals, with little time to rest and regroup, would be ripe for the Shockers’ picking.
But, as so often happens in sports, reality veered away from the script.
Louisville was the energized team. Wichita State, which had plenty of time between its quarterfinal win over LSU and it’s Thursday game, was the lethargic, out-of-sorts team.
The Shockers, who face Michigan State in Friday’s third-place game, have work to do. Perhaps it’s as simple as getting a bad game out of the way early. Or there might be deeper offensive issues with this team that did not come to light while playing teams like South Carolina State, Long Beach State, Tulsa, Maryland-Eastern Shore or LSU.
It was a good and overdue time for a litmus test and the Shockers found out some things about themselves Thursday. They might not be as good as they, or we, thought they were.
Later in the season, Marshall and the Shockers might send Louisville a thank you card. I suspect Wichita State will learn from this game and that Marshall learned more about his team in 40 minutes than he had learned in five previous games.
It’s a long season and there are many lessons.