No shocker: Wichita State contending in MVC
by Scott M Gleeson, USA TODAY Sports
Player of the year candidate Doug McDermott has dominated the national spotlight all season. After Wichita State’s 67-64 win Saturday against Creighton, it’s clear once again that McDermott’s Bluejays aren’t the only Missouri Valley Conference team demanding headlines.
The Shockers moved into the USA TODAY Sports Coaches Poll, at No. 21, on Monday for the first time this season. Creighton dropped two spots, to 10th.
After sixth-year coach Gregg Marshall lost four starters from last season’s MVC regular-season champion and NCAA tournament team, he was left with a roster full of what he described as “unknowns.”
“I think it has to do with culture, but I also think it has to do with the character of guys we recruit,” Marshall said of his team’s unexpected 17-2 start. “You don’t read about our guys in the news. If there’s a high school player who has a little bit of trouble and there’s a player who isn’t as talented but will work hard, who do you think I’m going to get?”
Those unknowns, led by junior college transfer Cleanthony Early (15.4 points per game), jumped out to a 9-0 start. Shortly after their first loss of the season, to Tennessee, the Shockers were dealt a huge blow when one of the team’s best players — senior forward Carl Hall — sustained a thumb injury in practice. Wichita State went 6-1 without Hall.
Hall, who averages 13.2 points and 8.3 rebounds, was back to form in WSU’s win against Creighton. He finished with 17 points and 13 rebounds in just his second game back and spent a good chunk of the night guarding McDermott, the nation’s second-leading scorer.
Marshall’s diverse group of newcomers and returning role players have gotten the job done. And if the Shockers aren’t able to punch an automatic ticket to the NCAA tournament, they once again have an appealing Big Dance rèsumè with wins against two ranked teams — Creighton and VCU in November — and the team’s RPI of 15 is also tournament-worthy.
Big men Early and Hall have meshed well with the backcourt of Oregon transfer Malcolm Armstead (9.5 points … [For more on No shocker Wichita State is once again contending in MVC, click here.]