Wichita State entered the 2014 NCAA Tournament with a 34-0. An instant classic with Kentucky in the Round of 32 sent the Shockers home. For much of their unbeaten run, the Shockers were criticized for their schedule, despite defeating five tournament teams in the regular season.
The Shockers non-conference schedule this season figures to be better with a neutral site game — in South Dakota — against Memphis. Wichita State also takes on Utah and could also potentially square off with Nebraska. In years to come, it will hard to knock the team’s out-of-conference schedule, as the Shockers are set to appear in several high-profile early season tournaments, according to a report on Tuesday from Paul Suellentrop of the Wichita Eagle.
2015: Orlando Classic (previously known as the Old Spice Classic)
2016: Battle 4 Atlantis
2017: Maui Invitational
The Battle 4 Atlantis field for this upcoming November includes Wisconsin, North Carolina, Florida, Georgetown, UCLA and Oklahoma. That cast separates the Battle 4 Atlantis from the rest of the holiday events, in only it’s fourth year. Last season, Villanova and Kansas headlined the field and the season before that Duke and Louisville met in the final.
“We consider that one of the premier (tournaments) at this time,” Senior associate athletic director Darron Boatright told the Eagle. “(Tournament director) Lea Miller, the founder of that tournament, has really partnered with the Bahamian government and made that into a special, special tournament.”
In 2015, Wichita State will be in Orlando with Dayton, Notre Dame and Xavier. In 2017, the Fighting Irish and Wisconsin are both reportedly heading to Maui as well.
Wichita State reached the Final Four in 2013 and rallied off 35 straight wins following season. By the looks of upcoming schedules, Gregg Marshall intends on building off those two years.
With practices beginning this weekend, not only are players looking to avoid the injury bug but their coaches are as well. And in the case of Memphis, the Tigers won’t have one of their assistants on the court for a little while due to a knee injury.
Assistant coach Damon Stoudamire, who returned to Josh Pastner’s staff this summer after a two-year stint at Arizona, suffered the injury during a recent workout according to L. Jason Smith of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal. And Stoudamire will require surgery, which will put him on the shelf for a little bit.
“He was working out himself and I think he thought he was in his rookie year,” Pastner said. “We think he’s got a torn meniscus, which will require surgery and put him out for a couple of days.”
Stoudamire isn’t the only assistant coach working through pain either. Syracuse’s Mike Hopkins, who is also Jim Boeheim’s heir apparent as head coach, suffered a neck injury body surfing during a family vacation last month. Hopkins spent some time in a neck brace while putting players through workouts as a result of the injury.
As for the Tigers, they’ll have a mixture of experience on the perimeter and youth in the front court as they look to get back to the NCAA tournament after missing out last season. Among the newcomers are talented forwards Dedric and K.J. Lawson, with experienced guards such as Kedren Johnson, Trahson Burrell and Ricky Tarrant (grad transfer from Alabama) expected to be key contributors on the perimeter.
Duke is coming off of a national championship but the roster will look almost completely different for the 2015-16 season. That means last season’s approach to things on the offensive and defensive end will have to change and head coach Mike Krzyzewski mentioned to reporters on Friday how the Blue Devils are still figuring some things out.
“We’re putting in a different offensive system, to personalize it for these guys,” Krzyzewski said to reporters. “And a different defensive system so that we can max out on the talents that they have.
“We’re really proud of our team. I think we’re going to be a really good team.”
Without Jahlil Okafor in the middle, Duke’s offense could shift to a mostly perimeter-oriented team, as the wing and guard depth is superior for this year’s group. Coach K and his staff making adjustments to schemes to fit personnel is a nice move from the Hall of Famer, as he’s done a better job in recent years of making adjustments like this after his stint with USA Basketball.
As the program moves on from Okafor, Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow and Quinn Cook, it’ll be intriguing to see who emerges as a potential go-to offensive player early in the season and how Duke’s offense potentially evolves as the season wears on.