Wichita State University Shockers – Preseason AP #10
2014-15: 30-5 (17-1 in Missouri Valley play, regular season conference champs), lost to Notre Dame in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament
Head Coach: Gregg Marshall (9th year) (204-76 at WSU)
Projected Starting Lineup
PG Fred VanVleet – 5’11”, 195 Senior: 13.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 5.2 apg
SG Ron Baker – 6’4″, 217 Senior: 14.5 ppg, 4.5 ppg, 2.5 apg
SF Evan Wessel – 6’5″, 221 Senior: 4.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 0.8 spg
PF Rashard Kelly – 6’7″, 232 Sophomore: 2.9 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 0.4 spg
C Anton Grady – 6’8″, 240 Senior: 14.3 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 1.4 bpg @ Cleveland St
Returning Key Bench Players
G/F Zach Brown – 6’6″, 205 Sophomore: 3.3 ppg, 1.4 rpg, 0.4 bpg
F/C Shaq Morris – 6’7″, 258 Sophomore: 4.7 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 0.8 bpg
C Rauno Nurger – 6’10”, 242 Sophomore: 2.3 ppg, 1.2 rpg, 0.4 bpg
C Bush Wamukota – 6’11”, 234 Senior: 1.1 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 46% FG
C Anton Grady – 6’8″, 240 Senior: 14.3 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 1.4 bpg @ Cleveland St
G Conner Frankamp – 6’1″, 175 Sophomore: 2.5 ppg, 0.6 rpg, 0.6 apg @ Kansas in 2013-14
G Tyrone Taylor II – 6’1″, 165 Freshman: Rivals 3-Star Recruit
G Landry Shamet – 6’4″, 185 Freshman: Rivals #88 Recruit
F Markis McDuffie – 6’8″, 190 Freshman: ESPN’s #95 Recruit
F Eric Hamilton – 6’9″, 220 Freshman: Rivals 3-Star Recruit
Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday have saddled up for one last epic ride, and they’ve won the gunfight against their fearsome and more numerous foes… Or wait, that’s not exactly right. But there’s still a great story unfolding out on the high plains.
At Wichita State, senior All-Americans Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet have decided to put off their NBA dreams for one more season. Soon after their Sweet 16 run last season ended, the veteran duo announced their joint intention to play one more season with the Shockers, and chase one more deep tourney run. Then, their coach, Gregg Marshall, spurned reportedly lavish offers from high major schools so that he could return to pursue another Final Four with his outstanding guards. Yes, for one more season, this famous posse is riding together – and they’ve got legendary goals in mind.
Following their miracle run to the National Semifinals in 2013, VanVleet, Baker and Marshall carved their names alongside Ralph Miller, Antoine Carr, Xavier McDaniel and Cliff Levingston in the Shocker pantheon. Last year’s victory to oust Kansas from the NCAA Tournament served to further endear the trio to the hearts of the Wichita State faithful. Yet, this team remains hungry for more: they’ve loaded up accordingly. Make no mistake; it’s Final Four or bust for Wichita State in 2015-16, and no smart person is going to bet against these Shockers.
Baker and VanVleet are complete guards; both handle well, distribute well, shoot it from deep, put the ball on the floor, get to the foul line, and check their man on the other end. They’ve been through all the rigors of March, and proven their mettle in ways that many players only get to dream of. By themselves, these two guards would be enough to make Wichita State a threat to advance deep in March. In a perfect world, they would have someone to hurt opponents inside and free up Baker and VanVleet outside. Maybe a transfer. Maybe a 6’8″ banger who could score. Maybe someone like Gabe Blair (6’8″ transfer), or Carl Hall (6’8″ transfer), Cleanthony Early (6’8″ transfer) or Darius Carter (6’8″ transfer) to fill the frontcourt void for this otherwise-elite team.
Turns out, Anton Grady’s your huckleberry. That’s just his game.
The former Cleveland State big man has averaged 11.3 points, 7 boards, and 1.2 blocks on 50% shooting in his collegiate career. Last year, he posted career-high averages of 14.3 points, 7.9 boards, 1.5 steals and 1.4 blocks per game. He notched a dozen double-doubles while getting to the foul stripe almost five times per game. And, he’s decided to transfer out West and play his final collegiate season at Wichita State. With that resume, he’s just what the Shockers need to balance out their guards and help lead a strong cast of supporting players. Grady just needs to do a better job of avoiding turnovers and especially foul trouble in order to make the jump from Horizon League to Top 10 contender. Luckily, he’s had the summer to grow comfortable in his new digs, and will be able to use the MVC conference season to truly establish his role in the offense.
Joining Grady up front will be tough-minded forward Rashard Kelly, sweet-shooting center Rauno Nurger and powerful post scorer Shaquille Morris. The addition of Grady is perfect for not just WSU’s guards, but for the young big men as well. Kelly figures to start at the 4, and has a year of banging against bigger players under his belt now. A solid rebounder and feisty defender, Kelly can score around the basket but needs to work on his jump shot – even so, he canned 4 of his 9 three-point attempts as a freshman. Likewise, Nurger can step out to the 3pt arc and hit shots. He’s got to add strength but is being groomed as Marshall’s center of the future. With a good feel on the offensive end, Nurger could give the team a look up front that it hasn’t seen since Garrett Stutz graduated.
Morris, a potential star as soon as this year, will get to be the first big man off the bench – a role that should be perfect for him at this stage of his career. A big presence both on the court and in the locker room, Shaq Morris is the Young Aristotle of this Shockers squad. He continues to get in better shape, and last year saw the benefits of a redshirt season. As a freshman, Morris posted averages to 5.4 points, 3 boards and 1.1 blocks over the team’s final 22 games: those 22 games included the MVC regular season, conference tourney and postseason. If Marshall uses Morris off the bench, he can bring a serious low-post scoring threat to Wichita State’s second unit, and should present a real mismatch against opponents on a nightly basis. Morris is developing a comfort level operating with his back to the basket, and projects as a poor man’s type of DaJuan Blair. With explosive quickness inside and a 7-foot wingspan to compensate for less-than-ideal height, Morris is a potential star going forward.
Rounding out the depth inside is last season’s deep reserve Bush Wamukota, who played in 32 games last year but never really carved out a significant role. He’s the tallest player on the roster, and Wamukota can run the floor and get on the boards. He didn’t make a smooth transition from junior college last season, though, and committed a foul every six minutes he was on the floor. If Wamukota can defend more efficiently this season, he could double his minutes, and potentially play his way into the starting lineup. Word around the campfire is that Wamukota has made significant progress during his off-season development.
As if that frontcourt trio of Morris, Grady and Kelly plus the two sharpshooting guards wasn’t enough, Marshall adds a further pair of potential high-impact guards in transfers Conner Frankamp and Peyton Allen. Allen had a promising first year at Texas A&M, and he’ll help to replace VanVleet and Bakers’ production next year. Unfortunately, he’s got to sit out this season due to NCAA transfer rules but will make practices even more competitive than they already are.
Frankamp, a former 4-star recruit who defected from Kansas, has to feel that much better about his decision after last season’s NCAA clash of Sunflower State squads. He brings a reputation as a strong shooter, but never seemed to fit into the rotation at Kansas. With the Shockers, Frankamp should begin his career as a scorer off the bench. He also has something extra to prove right away, following an offseason DUI arrest. If everything goes according to plan for Frankamp now that he’s more established, he should provide a great lift – along with Morris – for Marshall’s second unit.
That’s not all Marshall has, though – oh no. The Shockers also return a prototype glue guy in swingman Evan Wessel. With an ever-changing roster at Wichita State, Wessel has seen his role shift from year-to-year. Wessel has transformed into a defensive vexation, heady ball-handler and high-energy leader who does whatever his team needs from him on a given night. He was tasked with posting up more last season, but expect Evan to player a smaller role this season at the small forward. The Wichita native posted career highs across the board last year and dropped 12 points (on four triples) and 9 boards on Kansas in the NCAA tournament. With good size and all the experience he’s gained, Wessel figures to fill a valuable role once more. All he does at Koch Arena is win; Wessel has a career record of 40-0 at home. No matter how much talent the Shockers add around him, Wessel has proven to be a steady and versatile presence, and he’s a guy who VanVleet, Baker, and most importantly Marshall, can trust. Additional depth on the wing is provided by Zach Brown. In just over 10 minutes per game as a freshman, Brown proved to have solid potential. He posted great percentages; 52% from the floor, 72% from the foul stripe and 42% from 3, in his limited playing time. With a full offseason to get stronger and better, Brown could push for even more minutes. At worst, his presence on the wing gives Marshall a solid 5-man second unit. With Frankamp handling the ball and knocking down shots, one of the freshman wings, Brown as a scoring threat, Nurger spacing the floor and Shaq Morris operating under the basket, Wichita State has the depth to deliver knockout blows after the stars push opponents onto the ropes.
And since, apparently, that still isn’t enough for Marshall, the Shockers are welcoming a strong crop of four talented freshmen who play four different positions. One of the most touted youngster is bouncy 6’7″ forward Markis McDuffie. A star prospect out of New Jersey prep powerhouse St. Anthony’s, McDuffie turned down SMU, Maryland and VCU to play out on the prairie. Landry Shamet is a scoring guard who committed to the Shockers over offers from virtually every high major team in the midsection of the country, and is getting a ton of hype nationally before the season even starts. Eric Hamilton is a versatile power forward out of Georgia by way of Sunrise prep in Wichita, continuing Marshall’s strong ties to that school. And Ty Taylor is a quick and crafty 3-star combo guard from the prestigious Hargrave Academy in Virginia, who chose Wichita State over Texas. Competition for minutes behind this team’s stars will be absolutely fierce, and the future will be bright going forward with the potential that as many as five underclassmen will make up Marshall’s 10-man rotation. HCGM has mentioned that someone will take a redshirt this year, and that may prove to be one of his most difficult decisions.
The Shockers are a fantastic, deep, experienced and well-rounded college basketball team. They’ve been to the NCAA Tournament four years in a row, and have won 7 tourney games in those four seasons. They relish the opportunity for big games, and hard-work has brought many opportunities over the years. They’ve won three consecutive conference titles, and they have two All-Americans and consummate star senior leaders in VanVleet and Baker.
Gregg Marshall has established Wichita State as a legitimate national powerhouse, and with so many talented underclassmen on this team, the success will not simply end once VanVleet and Baker go on to become NBA Draft picks.
Marshall and his outstanding players have built a foundation that will last, and they want this season to be their masterpiece that resoundingly affirms all of the work they’ve put in making Wichita State great. Another Final Four is not just a dream or a goal for these Shockers: they have all the ingredients necessary to reach the top of the mountain once again.
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