I’ve developed a friendly relationship with the fellas over at AllBuffs.com which is a hybrid of ShockerHoops and ShockerNet, it is a blog site as well as a message board. It is one of the best fan boards I have seen, and definitely one of the friendliest fan sites I have ever been to. Especially considering we play each other in the first game of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, some sites might get nasty with rival fans. One of the main contributors to the basketball section on AllBuffs, James asked me to do a bit of a Q&A with them for an article, discussing all things Wichita State, and the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. He was kind enough to let me post up the Q&A over here, even though I’m the one answering the questions. It’s a great list of questions, and really gave me a nice platform to talk about a bunch of different topics that I love talking about. So without further adieu, let’s get this started.
AllBuffs – Last year the Shockers & Buffs both ended up in NYC for the NIT Final Four. Unlike our Buffs you guys won both of your games to be crowned NIT champions. Does that, combined with the fact that you hung with eventual NCAA champs UConn in the Maui Invitational and only lost to Final Four team VCU by one point, make you think that the Shockers should have been dancing last year or was the NIT the place they belonged?
ShockerHoops – I think my answer hinges on one word in the question. The word would be “should.” Should Wichita State have been selected based on our play? No, we shouldn’t have. We didn’t put away UCONN, specifically Kemba Walker, we didn’t win at San Diego State, we didn’t beat VCU at home during the Bracket Busters, and we couldn’t beat an energized and hot Indiana State team in our Conference Tournament. Wichita State also lost at home to Southern Illinois in the last half of the season, which really was a horrible loss for the team. Based on all of that, it’s no surprise we didn’t make it in the tournament. Especially since the selection committee even kept Missouri State out of the tournament, and they were the MVC regular season champions.
Back to the one word that changes the question drastically. If you change “should” to “could” then most definitely I do think we could have held our own in the tournament. When you go through a list of teams that we beat to win the NIT, its actually quite an established list of BCS teams that in their own right could have been in the NCAA Tournament. That paired with our play against two final four teams, UCONN & VCU, I think there is definitely enough support to say that we could have very well have made a dent in the bracket if we got our chance. That does leave a tiny taste of bitterness in my mouth, but in general, Valley teams have become familiar with being slighted by the selection committee on a consistent basis. Out of all the teams in the country that didn’t make the tournament last year, I would have to mention Missouri State as being slighted the hardest. They won their first Valley regular season championship ever, played good hoops at the end of the year, and still didn’t receive an at-large bid. I think the MVC as a whole, is ready to explode this year, and hopefully send 2-3 teams to the dance.
AllBuffs – Overall, what is the effect of the NIT on Wichita State? Have you noticed an increase in fan support/ticket sales?
ShockerHoops – Yes I have seen an increase in general “buzz” about the Shockers after the NIT victory. As for ticket sales, we have one of the strongest and most loyal fan bases in the country, and our consistent sellouts are something to back up that claim. Ticket sales haven’t increased because of it, but we sell out nearly 100% of our home games to begin with. I have seen a lot of recruits talk about the NIT Championship, so I would specifically point to that as being one of the biggest perks of winning the NIT. Anytime a mid-major program can play on national television and be exposed to thousands of people, it’s extremely helpful for a program that may only be on national television a handful of times through the regular season. It definitely allows recruits, and even potential recruits that the staff hasn’t even contacted yet, to watch what Shocker basketball is all about. They can see on TV what Koch Arena is like, they can see Marshall’s system in place, and can picture themselves in that environment. Going deep in either tournament has benefits. Obviously the NCAA is more coveted than the NIT, but the exposure is still similar.
AllBuffs – What would you say the Shockers strengths are heading in to this season?
ShockerHoops – Our strengths are definitely the veteran play of our guards and small forwards. Garrett Stutz our senior center is a strength, as well as the coaching staff that we have. We return Joe Ragland at point, Toure Murry who is a shooting guard / small forward combo, David Kyles who is a high rising three point sniper that is absolutely explosive, and Ben Smith at small forward who was a good bench player last year and he has really developed over the off season into a very solid overall player.
Garrett Stutz is the key to our success. If we can dish it into him and get solid points around the rim, it really opens our offense up to kick it out to the perimeter. Which is exactly the system Coach Marshall runs, which is the four out, one in motion offense. Coach Marshall has established his style of play after four years at Wichita State, and all the players have bought into his system. They are really focusing on the system and not individual statistics for each player. The players have bought into the idea that it’s all about the score at the end of the game and not individual performance, as you can tell by the distribution of points in each game. The points are really spread around the roster. How our assistants work to develop our new talent, to refine their skills, as well as progress them through the system will be crucial to our success of bringing in young guys off the bench.
AllBuffs – What would you say the Shockers weaknesses are?
ShockerHoops – Our weaknesses really consist on three levels. First the ability to establish the power forward position. Who will play there, and how they work into the offensive scheme, as well as the post play in general are weaknesses. We lost our starting center and power forward from last year, and I think that Stutz stepping into the role of starting center won’t bemuch of an issue. Where the issue begins, is how do we keep pressure off him, with our power forwards. Wichita State’s back up center, Ehimen Orukpe is a7’0” athletic beast. He’s been a real question mark on this team for such a long time. He hasn’t developed as a player as fast as anyone has liked, but there are moments when his potential will shine through and you just wish it would be a permanent change rather than just flashes of greatness. If he can come through with solid minutes, it will be great for Stutz to get a breather now and again. How the Shockers develop at the power forward position is huge. We picked up two JUCO transfers this year in Carl Hall and James Anacreon. They’re veteran players who know big time basketball, it just depends on how they develop within the 4-1 motion. Carl Hall hasn’t played the 4-1 before from my understanding, and he’s having to get used to playing further away from the hoop. If he can get comfortable, he could go for a double-double on a consistent basis. He’s an absolute rebounding machine. James Anacreon is a high energy guy that can jump out of the gym. He’ll be a great defensive force, and will electrify the crowd a couple times a game. He missed our trip to Brazil because he was a late addition to the team, and you can tell that he’s a step or two behind the other players in early season development.
The second level would be the new addition of seven new players to the team. Five of the seven are true freshmen. Depending on who gets a red-shirt and who will actually suit up on the bench will be a deciding factor on where this team ends up at the end of the year. If we can get solid minutes out of a few in relief of the starters, you could end up seeing Wichita State make a real run at a Top 25 ranking at some point during the season. Our freshman power forward Jake White is the most likely candidate to make an impact this year in my opinion. He really has impressed me the couple times I’ve seen him hoop this off season. He has a great work ethic and a silky sweet jump shot that is hard to find in a lot of mid-major conferences. I think that he really has the ability to make a difference this season, and will be a star by the time he’s an upperclassmen.
The third level would be avoiding the pitfalls of last year where we couldn’t capitalize on key games that will make or break a season. If we can’t capitalize on our non conference schedule, it will be detrimental to attaining an at-large bid for the tournament. The Valley is one of the toughest conferences to play in, year in and year out, and all the teams know this. The teams in conference end up beating up on each other, and anything can happen at the conference tournament, just like last year when Indiana State upset the top two seeds of the tournament in Wichita State and Missouri State. WSU has to capitalize on the non conference or hope we can get through the gauntlet that is the MVC regular season and conference tournament.
AllBuffs – You guys have five new freshmen and two JUCO signings. Do you expect much help from them this year or will you be relying on the fact that you return five of your top six scorers from last season?
ShockerHoops – I don’t think you expected me to write a novel on each question, but I sort of answered part of this question in question four about our power forward issues and our JUCO players. I think that a team can get by on just a starting line up alone, but only for a while. Having depth to a roster is a substantial bonus for a team’s ability to go deep into a season and be successful. If we can develop the new talent, and get them to become comfortable with the system that Coach Marshall has in place, then great things could happen this season. Looking at Wichita State’s run through the NIT last year, our ability to constantly send in reserves to give our starters a rest, was key to going deep in the tournament. I think that some of the competition we played, had better “star” players than Wichita State, but we had better depth, and a stronger team overall. Which can be solely rested on the shoulders of Coach Marshall and his ability to develop talent.
AllBuffs – Do you feel the NCAA tournament is a realistic goal this year? Do you think you’ll have to be Missouri Valley Conference champions to reach that goal or could an at-large bid do it?
ShockerHoops – I think that the NCAA tournament is definitely a possible reality for Wichita State. If the team can remain focused late into the season, start strong out of conference, and remain healthy, then I think we do have the talent and schedule to impress the committee to give us an at-large bid. It would be nice to secure our destiny in a conference tournament victory, but that is such a tough feat to accomplish. It really is a toss up for half the conference to legitimately win the conference tournament each year. All a team has to do is get hot, and they could be dancing, and leaving the top two or three teams behind at home or in a lower tier post season tournament. I’ll remain positive and try to be realistic through the season, but I do think there is a very good chance you will see WSU playing in March Madness.
AllBuffs: Toure’ Murry is a player that is known very well around the MVC, but most Buffs fans probably haven’t heard of him. What can you tell us about Murry’s game?
ShockerHoops: Toure Murry is a 6’5” 205 lbs. combo guard. He is a very versatile player, and has played minutes at point guard, shooting guard, as well as small forward when we run a smaller, faster line up. He has a wide skill set that allows him to play each of those positions well. Toure plays hard all the time, and really shines in transition as well as driving to the rim to either dunk it home or kick it out to an open player. He is a big guy and uses his body well on the defensive end. His defensive ability is definitely the strongest part of his game. He is our go to guy when matching up man to man if we’re playing a team with a stand out star. He’s played defense on a handful of NBA players through the past couple years and has done as good a job as anyone could ask of him. Toure needs to stay healthy for us to be as good as we can, and if he does remain healthy, look for him to be in the running for MVC PoY. Rivals actually just named him the #9 “do everything” player in the entire NCAA. He really is quite the utility player for us.
AllBuffs: This summer, you guys got a bit of a national boost when Perry Ellis listed you as one of his final four teams along with national powers Kansas, Kansas State and Kentucky before committing to Kansas. You guys were also in the running for a SG that CU was looking at in Buddy Hield who eventually committed to Oklahoma. Even though you didn’t land either of them, it appears you guys are on the upswing. Can you tell us a little bit about how your recruiting is going overall right now?
ShockerHoops: Our recruiting has been absolutely superb under Gregg Marshall. He has a really strong assistant coaching staff that have a lot of “ins” around the country. Coach Ford who is a new coach this year has connections with Illinois, so look for WSU to pull more and more Illinois talent in the future. Our 2012 point guard Fred VanVleet is out of Rockford Illinois which is near the Chicago area. We also added Coach Heiar who was a head coach at Chipola which is a top tier JUCO school that is a recruiting machine for D-I level talent. Coach Heiar is well known and respected around the JUCO scene, and we have picked up some really strong JUCO talent with his help, recruiting Carl Hall, James Anacreon, and Cleanthony Early. All three have been given national praise for their careers in their respective JUCO’s. Marshall recruits very strong, and he has an ability to evaluate talent that others can’t see as quickly. I mentioned Fred VanVleet earlier, but we were in the mix early to get him. Look for him to have an explosive senior season this year and possibly crack the Top 100 lists on national recruiting sites. I do think that Wichita State is becoming more and more of a recognizable program with recruits on a national level.
AllBuffs: Where do you see Wichita State three years from now?
ShockerHoops: That’s the toughest question you’ve asked so far. I think Wichita State will have made the tournament a couple times, and will be on an upswing from losing this year’s returning starters. In three years, players such as Ron Baker, Jake White, Cleanthony Early, and Tekele Cotton will all be upperclassmen, and if they develop into strong players like I’m hoping they do, we could see the highest level of basketball that Wichita State has produced since the 80’s. If Marshall recruits like he does, and increases exposure through success, then I think we could even be at the level to be in the mix for players who might be potential early exit players to the NBA. If we can get a mix of one or two NBA level talents that leave the program early, with a mix of very strong four year players, then I think Wichita State could be a top 25 team under Marshall.
All of this hinges on the fact that Gregg is still our coach. If he does stay for three more years, I think everything will be better in the future than it is now. It is the unknown of being in a conference that is traditionally a stepping stone for coaching talent. If we can keep Marshall for future years, I think he would be very comparable to long time Valley coach Dana Altman who left Creighton recently for Oregon. Altman was with Creighton for 15 or 16 seasons, and they flourished under him. It’s really hard to keep a continual trend upwards as a program if you’re constantly cycling coaches out. Basketball and college sports in general tend to be cyclical for teams, good for a few years, down a few, then back up. It’s exponentially harder to remain at a constant level of success if you’re cycling coaches every 5-6 years. That is the key for our upward mobility.
AllBuffs: Last but not least, how is the Puerto Rico Tipoff going to play out? Will one of our two teams be cutting down the nets when it’s all said & done?
ShockerHoops: You saved the hardest questions for the last two I see. I won’t predict a tournament winner because I think that the tournament is going to be tightly contested in the semifinals and the final. There are a lot of strong teams in this tournament, with a good mix of strong BCS teams such as Alabama, and Purdue, as well as a few strong mid-majors with Iona and Wichita State. You can’t count out Temple and Western Michigan either, both have strong teams, with a lot of returning players.
I think Wichita State wins the match up with Colorado. I think it will be a pretty consistent victory all game long, with Wichita State gradually pulling away. I think the ages show through for Colorado and there are quite a few mental mistakes in the game that WSU will capitalize on. Who controls the board and tempo will win the game. If Roberson can cause problems and snatch up boards away from Carl Hall and Garrett Stutz, then I think CU has a chance to upset the Shockers. I think it will be fairly high scoring, mid to low 80’s for the winner.
Wichita State goes on to play Alabama and plays a close game in the NIT Championship rematch. I think the Shockers win by a basket or two going down to the wire. Colorado will go on to beat a down Maryland team and advance in the left side of the bracket to play their final game against Iona. The Buffs will play a strong game, but Iona will pull ahead later in the game based on the play of their veteran team. Colorado ends up 1-2 in the tournament.
Wichita State will advance to the finals against Purdue. I’m not sure who will win this game. It will be a battle the whole game. The tournament has a great group of teams playing, and it will be entertaining for all the fans. I think that it will be a very good indicator at where these teams will end up at the end of the year as well. I think you will see solid performances by Iona, Purdue, WMU, Alabama and Wichita State. I think Colorado fans will see the potential of their future teams, and can remain positive going into the rest of the season that you will lose some, but have the ability to upset some teams in the Pac-12.