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Hoops Preview: Wichita State returns an inexperienced squad after a wild offseason

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The Shockers had arguably the most turbulent offseason in college basketball and start the season picking up the pieces.

NCAA Basketball: Wichita State at Tulsa Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

Rest assured: While it is surely unfortunate to have many of your teammates transfer and the program you committed to upturned over the course of a few short weeks, what’s happened at Wichita State over the past weeks and months is a net positive for college basketball. You’ll find no sympathy for Gregg Marshall here.

That being said, it’s still possible to lament the loss of prestige a game like this could’ve had just a few months ago — again, entirely Marshall’s fault. Wichita State has filled a void that a program like Missouri would have back in the early 2000s. Marshall’s teams were tenacious on offense and defense, but his best teams always provided traditional “Midwestern” basketball — hard-nosed, defense-oriented — with the sort of high-spirited energy you’d be more likely to see out West. To watch a program like that — albeit one on a slight decline — face a Missouri team that has quickly risen in estimation over the course of two games would’ve been a treat.

But Marshall got it in his head that just because you don’t pay a player doesn’t mean you have to respect him either. So here we are.

Wichita State, despite the tumult of their specific offseason, is not a program in ruins or maybe even one in sharp decline. No doubt the Shockers bled some high-end talent over the course of the Marshall investigation — more on that below. But despite all the high-profile exits, interim head coach Isaac Brown has a number of familiar faces who are all looking to prove they chose Wichita State for more than just the coach.

After all, the moral failings of one man shouldn’t remove the pride one feels for playing for his chosen school. In an era when players are risking their long and short term health to play a game and not being compensated for it, pride is really all they can take away sometimes. That may not seem like a lot, and you can’t cash “pride” at the bank. But in the wake of the past few weeks, I think you’ll find a lot of people rooting for Wichita State’s success. Not for the program, necessarily — for the players who have to play this wild season under the shadow of COVID-19 and a coaching scandal, neither of which they could control, and both of which could’ve been controlled a lot better than they were.

The Scout

The Starters

Position Missouri (2-0) Wichita State (1-0)
Position Missouri (2-0) Wichita State (1-0)
PG Xavier Pinson (Jr., 6'2", 170) Tyson Etienne (So., 6'2", 200)
CG Dru Smith (Rs. Sr., 6'3", 203) Alterique Gilbert (Sr., 6', 180)
WING Mark Smith (Sr., 6'5", 220) Dexter Dennis (Jr., 6'5", 210)
PF Kobe Brown (So., 6'7", 240) Trey Wade (Sr., 6'6", 221)
POST Jeremiah Tilmon (Sr., 6'10", 260) Morris Udeze (Jr., 6'8", 235)

Note: These starting lineups are projected.

As I suggested above, the Shockers’ roster was absolutely decimated by the Gregg Marshall scandal. By KenPom, WSU lost four of their five Major or Significant Contributors, returning only Morris Udeze, who only played about 23 percent of available minutes last season. He’s an active rebounder and defender, but is a bit one-dimensional on the offensive end.

Tyson Etienne is the major come-up candidate for the Shockers, and he’ll be the agent by which the offense operates. He’s a great shooter — nearly 39 percent on 160 attempts as a true freshman — but didn’t show a lot of versatility. He’ll work hard to get to the line to balance things out, though, and it’ll be important for the Tigers to keep him in check from deep and in close.

Wichita State has more returning faces, but like Etienne and Udeze, they’ll be asked to shoulder a much bigger load than last season. The Wade siblings — Trey, a 6’6” senior, and Trevin, a 5’11” junior — didn’t pitch in much of note last year, though the former is a pesky tweener defender and the latter has some offensive punch off the bench. Wing Dexter Dennis is a useful defender, but won’t get too much run in the flow of the offense. Isaiah Poor Bear-Chandler tops out as the team’s tallest player at 6’9”, and has some utility as a mobile big, but he only gets spot minutes.

From there, the Shockers are depending on a handful of transfers to fill the gaps. UConn transfer Alterique Gilbert will get more opportunities to shine outside of the Big East, and he’s got the skill to be a problem from deep. Clarence Jackson arrives in Wichita after averaging 13.3 points in his lone JUCO year, catching the attention of Will Wade at LSU before heading further west.

When Missouri has the ball...

Missouri Offense vs. Wichita State Defense

Team Adj. Eff. Poss. Length eFG% TO% OR% FTA/FGA 3P% 2P% FT% Blk% Stl%
Team Adj. Eff. Poss. Length eFG% TO% OR% FTA/FGA 3P% 2P% FT% Blk% Stl%
Missouri 107.6 (41) 15.8 (71) 57 (29) 16.5 (61) 33.3 (56) 27.1 (204) 33.9 (110) 61.6 (14) 77.1 (40) 9.6 (168) 8.2 (110)
Wichita State 95.5 (102) 15.3 (37) 51.4 (183) 15.6 (243) 40 (276) 18.3 (10) 41.9 (258) 42.5 (44) 53.8 (18) 12.5 (57) 7.1 (212)
NCAA Basketball: Oregon at Missouri
Jeremiah Tilmon has been a force down low. Can he continue his early season run against Wichita State?
Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch | Can Missouri clean up on the glass?

The Shockers aren’t a particularly strong defensive team, and there will be opportunities for Missouri to capitalize. But the Tigers have a distinct size advantage on the Shockers, and they’d be remiss not to take advantage. In the first few games, Mizzou players not named Mark Smith are shooting 27 percent from three, and Smith is bound to come down a bit from his torrid start. When the Tigers struggle shooting the ball, they’ll need some extra chances. Coming off a game against the long, athletic Ducks — in which the Tigers lost the rebounding battle by 3 — battling a Wichita State team on the boards that rates 230th in average height (and 276th in defensive rebounding) should be a much easier ask.

When Wichita State has the ball...

Wichita State Offense vs. Missouri Defense

Team Adj. Eff. Poss. Length eFG% TO% OR% FTA/FGA 3P% 2P% FT% Blk% Stl%
Team Adj. Eff. Poss. Length eFG% TO% OR% FTA/FGA 3P% 2P% FT% Blk% Stl%
Wichita State 102.6 (104) 18.1 (235) 47.7 (167) 9.9 (3) 36.6 (31) 42.4 (52) 40.9 (26) 40.9 (255) 78.6 (30) 0 (1) 7.1 (63)
Missouri 91.4 (48) 16.1 (93) 43.4 (50) 17.2 (208) 30.5 (176) 25.6 (60) 25 (36) 47.9 (121) 81.8 (277) 5.5 (223) 11 (76)
NCAA Basketball: Oregon at Missouri
Dru Smith ranks in the Top 40 in the country in steal rate. Can he continue disrupting other teams’ guards?
Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch | More offense from defense?

While Missouri struggled to stay consistent in the second half against Oregon, the one thing that held fast was its transition game. The Tigers benefitted from their experience against a Duck team that was still seeking chemistry, and they’ll find themselves in the same spot against Wichita State on Sunday. The Shockers may have a game under their belt, but they’re going to need more than 40 minutes to gel. Tyson Etienne doesn’t turn the ball over too often, but if the Tiger guards can get to the rest of the backcourt, they should be able to feast on a team that hasn’t logged a lot of reps together.

KenPom predicts...

Missouri 73, Wichita State 69 | To borrow liberally from Matt Harris on the latest episode of Dive Cuts: if you’re a tournament team, these are the types of games you consistently win. Wichita State isn’t the mid-major power they were just a few years ago, and they’re dealing with adversity. But they’ve got some talent and will push the Tigers if given room to do so. If Missouri can comfortably win the rebounding battle, stay active on defense and not go ice-cold, they should move to 3-0.