All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.
Last Season: 30-9, 12-6 Missouri Valley (2nd); Lost in the Final Four to Louisville
Head Coach: Gregg Marshall (7th season at Wichita State: 139-70 overall, 66-42 MVC)
Key Losses: Carl Hall, Malcolm Armstead, Demetric Williams, Jake White, Ehimen Orukpe
Newcomers: Kadeem Coleby, Darius Carter, Ria’n Holland, Shaquille Morris, Zach Bush, Derail Green
– G: Fred VanVleet, So.
– G: Ron Baker, So.
– F: Cleanthony Early, Sr.
– F: Darius Carter, Jr.
– C: Kadeem Coleby, Sr.
– Bench: Evan Wessel, So.; Tekele Cotton, Jr.; Nick Wiggins, Sr.; Chadrick Lufile, Sr.
They’ll be good because …: Gregg Marshall is going to have a deep and talented back court at his disposal. It starts with Cleanthony Early, an athletic, 6-foot-8 small forward that is one of the more explosive scorers in the country. Most will remember Early’s NCAA tournament performance, but he also had some monster games (39 points in a win over Southern Illinois, for instance) during the regular season. Consistency, especially from deep, will be the key factor for early. He only averaged 13.9 points despite those big games, and outside of a 14-23 stretch from three in January, he shot 24% from deep.
But there’s so much more to like about this group. Fred VanVleet is a former top 100 recruit that should be able to take over for Malcolm Armstead at the point. NCAA tournament hero Ron Baker and Evan Wessel are both healthy after battling injuries all through last season. Tekele Cotton and Nick Wiggins, Andrew’s brother, are back in the mix as well. That’s a tough group of kids, all of whom have seen what it takes to make it to the Final Four.
But they might disappoint because …: The Shockers lose the physical presence of Carl Hall around the bucket. Hall wasn’t exactly the second coming of Shaq, but he was a guy that could rebound the ball and score with his back to the basket. That’ll hurt, but they do add Kadeem Coleby, who averaged 9.6 points and 4.9 boards in 2011-2012 at Louisiana-Lafayette before transferring, and Marshall also brought in the No. 8 JuCo recruit in the country in Darius Carter.
There isn’t much experienced depth in the front court, either. Marshall has some big bodies that are either new to college basketball or have been ineffective in their time in Wichita. There are ways around this, like playing Early more minutes at the four to get more shooters and scorers on the floor on the perimeter, but it’s something to keep an eye on, especially if Coleby or Carter get into foul trouble early in games.
Outlook: On paper, the Shockers are the class of the Missouri Valley, talented and experienced enough that a season that ends in anything other than a league title and a trip to the NCAA tournament would be a major disappointment. On paper, this is a group that deserves the preseason top 25 ranking that they will get. On paper, another trip to the Sweet 16 shouldn’t be all that surprising.
But for that to happen, a couple of things need to occur. For starters, VanVleet needs to be able to embrace the leadership, decision-making and playmaking role that’s been vacated by Armstead. The Shockers also need to stay healthy, something that was easier said than done for Marshall’s team last season. Hall missed some time with a broken thumb, and Wessel and Baker combined for 26 games between them. Most importantly, however, Wichita State needs to avoid complacency. They can’t buy into the hype. They can’t allow some preseason accolades following last year’s surprising run to Atlanta to keep them from the ‘Play Angry’ mantra.
The Missouri Valley is always going to be a wild conference. Those road games are never going to be easy to win. Expecting to win simply by walking on the court could cost the Shockers dearly.