Darius Carter

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Wichita State’s Grady offers different low-post dynamic

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After reaching the Sweet 16 last season Wichita State had two important departures to account for. Not only did the Shockers lose one of the nation’s top “glue guys” in Tekele Cotton, but their best interior scorer in Darius Carter exhausted his eligibility as well. Carter averaged 11.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per game, shooting better than 52 percent from the field, making head coach Gregg Marshall’s search for a replacement an important subplot this spring.

Ultimately the Shockers managed to land a productive interior scorer in grad student Anton Grady, who averaged 14.3 points and 7.9 rebounds per contest as a redshirt junior at Cleveland State. In regards to both numbers and skill set, Grady is more than capable of being the front court supplement that players such as Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet need.

But Marshall was quick to point out to Bob Lutz of the Wichita Eagle that his newest big man has a style of play that differs from what Carter brought to the table in 2014-15.

“When Ron and Fred decided they were coming back for their senior years, we knew we had that one scholarship available,” Marshall said. “I determined to try and do the best I could to give those guys an opportunity to go out with a crescendo, as high a note as they could possibly go out on. So we were thrilled to get Anton rather than a transfer who had to sit out or a freshman probably not ready to be a prime-time player.”

Marshall believes Grady is ready to be that.

“He’s not a Darius Carter-type, he’s different,” Marshall said. “He’s not as long. This kid has had [three] knee surgeries, so he plays more of an old-man game. But he uses his body well. He gets angles and he can use either hand.”

Grady’s had to endure a total of three surgeries to repair the meniscus in each knee (two on the left and one on the right), which has forced him to make adjustments to his game. As Marshall noted in the quote above Grady has more of an “old man game,” which won’t be an issue given Wichita State’s other front court options as well as the presence of two of the nation’s best guards in Baker and VanVleet (Kansas transfer Conner Frankamp will be eligible in December).

Whether it’s through elite athleticism or a craftier approach, Wichita State simply needs Grady to be a dependable scoring option in the post area. And despite having to deal with knee issues throughout his college career, Grady’s proven that he can be productive.

Seth Tuttle, No. 18 Northern Iowa roll past No. 12 Wichita State

Seth Tuttle (AP Photo)
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After winning 20 games or more in five straight seasons Northern Iowa took a step back in 2013-14, as they had significant issues on defense and wound up posting a record of 16-15. Armed with an experienced lineup led by one of the Missouri Valley Conference’s best players in senior forward Seth Tuttle, Ben Jacobson’s team has improved substantially on the defensive end. As a result, Northern Iowa has reached the 20-win mark for the sixth time in the last seven seasons.

Saturday afternoon in a showdown of the Valley’s two best teams, the 18th-ranked Panthers took care of No. 12 Wichita State 70-54, and the final margin isn’t all that indicative of how much separated the two teams in Cedar Falls. The win moves UNI into a tie for first place in the Valley standings, and given their loss at Evansville earlier in the year this was a game the Panthers needed to get.

UNI was efficient on both ends of the court, shooting 60 percent from the field and 17-for-23 from the foul line, with 36 of their 70 points being scored in the paint. Tuttle led the way with 29 points and seven rebounds, putting forth a sensational performance against the Wichita State front court. While guards Fred Van Vleet, Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton receive most of the pub nationally, Saturday’s defeat serves as a reminder that the Shockers also need Darius Carter if they’re to play deep into March.

Carter, who entered the game averaging 12.0 points and 5.9 rebounds per game, played just nine minutes in the first half due to foul trouble (two points, one rebound) and went back to the bench early in the second half after picking up his third foul. The 6-foot-7 senior finished the game with eight points and three rebounds, but Wichita State needed him to be on the floor more than the 17 minutes he would up playing.

Beginning at the 9:38-mark of the first half Northern Iowa went on a 22-6 run, essentially putting the game away with that surge. Wes Washpun added 16 points, three rebounds and three assists off the bench for UNI, whose depth proved to be another issue for Wichita State. Nine of the ten players who saw action for the Panthers played at least 12 minutes, and each of those nine managed to score at least two points as well.

Wichita State doesn’t have that kind of depth, and given how much their main options struggled offensively Gregg Marshall could not find alternatives in order to get things going on that end of the floor. As a team the Shockers shot 35.4% from the field, with Van Vleet (18 points, 3-for-10 FG) scoring ten of his points from the foul line and Baker tallying ten points on 4-for-12 shooting.

Add in the quiet performances from Carter and Cotton (six points, 2-for-5 FG), and it’s easy to see why the Shockers were fighting an uphill battle for most of the game.

Wichita State put forth one of its worst offensive performances of the season Saturday, but the bigger problem for them was their inability to keep Northern Iowa from finding the shots it wanted. Carter’s foul trouble impacted this, and his production will be something to keep an eye on when the two teams meet February 28 in Wichita.

Wichita State’s offensive struggles highlighted by come-from-behind win vs. Alabama

Fred Van Vleet (AP Photo)
Fred Van Vleet (AP Photo)

No. 11 Wichita State won a thriller over Alabama last, using a 13-1, press-fueled run to knock off the Crimson Tide, 53-52, on a Darius Carter dunk with 11 seconds left in front of a raucous and intimidating Koch Center.

I guess the students got Gregg Marshall’s message.

Over the last five minutes of that game, Wichita State forced four turnovers and held Alabama to just one point while grabbing three huge offensive rebounds during that stretch. It’s the kind of win that we expect Wichita State to get in their own gym, one that was very much predicted by a writer that sees this team play more than most. There are things that you can question about the Shockers, but toughness certainly isn’t one of them.

And while Alabama looked like a team that could end up being a top four-finisher in the SEC this season, they also did a pretty fantastic job of highlighting just what Marshall and his team miss with Cleanthony Early in the professional ranks.

Early was undoubtedly the most talented player on the Shocker roster last season. Standing 6-foot-8, Early played the four for Wichita State, as he had just enough strength and athleticism that he wasn’t going to get manhandled at that spot. Offensively, however, Early was more of a natural three, a guy that not only had three-point range but the perimeter skill and explosiveness to beat people off the dribble. Anyone that saw the Kentucky-Wichita State thriller in the Round of 32 of last year’s NCAA tournament can attest to that.

Defenses had to be aware of where he was at all times. They had to game-plan for him and figure out a way that they could slow down an NBA small forward with a college four-man.

It created an easily exploitable mismatch, one that Marshall no longer has the luxury of using. In Early’s stead is veteran Evan Wessel, a decent shooter that’s “just-a-guy”, and freshman Rashard Kelly, who is a promising prospect but not yet ready to give the Shockers half of what Early gave them.

And as good as Tekele Cotton is defensively, as important as he is to what Wichita State does, he’s no more of an offensive threat than he was last year. He’ll knock down some open threes — he was 0-for-4 against Alabama — and he’ll throw down some impressive dunks, but there’s not a coach in the country that will lose sleep trying to figure out how to stop Cotton.

The result is that the Shockers are going to go through stretches this season where scoring will not come easy to them.

I love Fred Van Vleet. He’s as good of a college point guard as you are going to find, but he’s a good-not-great shooter — he’s down to 25.8 percent from three and 39.6 perfect from the field this year — that isn’t a plus-athlete. He’s a guy you ideally want initiating offense and running a team, attacking closeouts and defensive rotations created by Early and Ron Baker, not a guy being asked to carry a heavy-load offensively.

But that’s what he’s going to have to be this season.

Now, to his credit, Baker is having a terrific season, and Darius Carter has proven to be a real threat in the low post. Their improvement is part of the reason that the Shockers will likely remain in and around the top 20, at the least, throughout the season. And that’s to say nothing of the fact that Wichita State can lock down defensively as well as anyone.

They certainly aren’t “bad”.

But instead of being a real Final Four contender and one of the nation’s elite, like they were last season, this Shocker team is just another group trying to find a way to win a league title and play their way out of the NCAA tournament’s opening weekend.

No. 11 Wichita State rallies from 11 down to beat Alabama thanks to Van Vleet (VIDEO)

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Wichita State didn’t have any business winning on Tuesday night at home against Alabama. The No. 11 Shockers were outplayed for a large chunk of the second half and found themselves in a grind-it-out game against the Crimson Tide.

Finding themselves down 51-40 with 5:54 left after a Shannon Hale three-pointer, Wichita State ramped up its full-court pressure and didn’t allow another field goal the rest of the game as Shocker forward Darius Carter’s dunk with 12 seconds left was the go-ahead bucket in a thrilling 53-52 win. The victory gives the Shockers (8-1) 23 consecutive home wins and they needed nearly every second of this one to keep that streak alive. It also marked the second consecutive game that Wichita State rallied from a double-digit, second-half deficit to win as the Shockers beat Detroit on the road last week.

On a night where both teams slowed it down and worked long half-court possessions, the Crimson Tide took control with a 25-24 lead at the end of the first half and led until the go-ahead Carter dunk at the end of the game. Alabama’s defense contained Wichita State’s offense and limited them to jumpers and contested looks until the final six minutes, when Shocker guards Ron Baker (14 points) and Fred VanVleet (nine points, seven rebounds, five assists) were finally able to make some plays off-the-dribble and finish at the rim.

Once the Tide’s main rim protector, Jimmie Taylor, fouled out with 4:27 left, Baker and VanVleet finished with more consistency around the basket and attacked the lane with ferocity. Carter was also able to free up for the big dunk for the win off of a VanVleet drive and assist at the end of the game and Carter’s team-high 16 points were huge on a night where senior guard Tekele Cotton was cold and went scoreless. Wichita State still looks like they are trying to find a consistent offensive identity without Cleanthony Early on the wing this season.

The offense struggled for much of Tuesday, but the Shockers used their experience and the backing of a tremendous home crowd to will their way to victory. They never got rattled, their pressure defense came through when it mattered and the big-name guys stepped up in the clutch.

Wichita State isn’t as talented or as dynamic as last season with Early, but these two second-half comeback wins show that this team can still make big plays and rally around each other in the final minutes of a game to pull out a victory.

As for Alabama, they need to figure out their press-break situation and find a reliable third option who can remain consistent. The Crimson Tide should be encouraged that they stuck with a top-15 team on the road but these are the types of games you can’t let slip away. If Alabama considers itself a NCAA Tournament team, guard play will be key for them in the SEC this season if they match up against a talented backcourt.

Top 25 Countdown: No. 12 Wichita State

Ron Baker and Fred Van Vleet (AP Photo)
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The Shockers (AP Photo)

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package. We continue our countdown today with No. 12 Wichita State.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | NBCSports Preseason Top 25 | Preview Schedule

Head Coach: Gregg Marshall

Last Season: 35-1, 18-0 Missouri Valley (1st), lost in the Round of 32 to Kentucky

Key Losses: Cleanthony Early, Kadeem Coleby, Nick Wiggins

Newcomers: Rashard Kelly, Bush Wamukota, Zach Brown, Tevin Glass, Corey Henderson, Rauno Nurger

Projected Lineup

G: Fred Van Vleet, Jr.
G: Ron Baker, Jr.
G: Tekele Cotton, Sr.
F: Rashard Kelly, Fr.
F: Darius Carter, Sr.
Bench: Ria’n Holland, Fr.; Evan Wessel, Jr.; Shaq Morris, Fr.; Tevin Glass, Jr.; Bush Wamukota, Jr.

MORE: How does Wichita State build on the two best seasons in school history?

They’ll be good because … : The Shockers return the starting perimeter, including a pair of all-americans, from a team that went undefeated throughout the regular season in 2013-2014. Say what you will about how good Wichita State was last season, the bottom-line is that Fred Van Vleet, Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton can match up with any perimeter attack in the country in terms of talent and experience. Remember, all three played significant roles in Wichita State’s run to the 2013 Final Four as well.

Fred Van Vleet (AP Photo)

To be honest, I don’t know if the NBA is in the future for any of those three kids. I do know, however, that there isn’t a point guard in college basketball that is better at running a team than Van Vleet is. Baker is probably the best NBA prospect on Wichita State’s roster right now, a 6-foot-3 combo-guard that can shoot, defend and run the point like a natural. Throw in Tekele Cotton — a senior off-guard that is one of the best defenders in the country, a scintillating athlete and a 37.1% three-point shooter — and Gregg Marshall has himself an ideal three-guard lineup.

With those three on the floor, the Shockers are going to win a lot of games.

But they might disappoint because … : Wichita State’s front court is as inexperienced as their back court is talented. The only big man on the Shockers that saw action last season was Darius Carter, a 6-foot-7 senior that averaged 7.9 points and 4.5 boards in a complimentary role. He’ll be the x-factor to the Shocker season, as Marshall is going to need him to be a presence inside, as a rebounder, rim-protector and a low-post scoring threat. He was great at times last year. Can he build on that?

Beyond Carter, there are a ton of question marks for the Shockers. But there are also plenty of options as well. The favorite to start at the four spot seems to be freshman Rashard Kelly, a Virginia native that spent last season at prep school. He’s a tough kid and a good athlete, and while he’s a bit undersized at the four, he is physical while being mobile enough to play some on the perimeter. He’ll likely split minutes with JuCo transfer Tevin Glass and freshman Zach Brown. Backing up Carter in the middle will be Bush Wamukota, a raw, seven-foot JuCo kid with a ton of potential, and freshman Rauno Nurger.

Outlook: Don’t expect Wichita State to make another run at an undefeated season, and it’s not just because they will be trying to replace the go-to scoring ability of Cleanthony Early. The biggest knock on the Shockers last season was that their record was built on the fact that their schedule was bad, a fair critique that was built up to unfair levels. This year, that should not be the case, as Wichita State plays New Mexico State, Memphis, Tulsa, Utah, Saint Louis, Seton Hall and Alabama while also traveling to Hawaii for the Diamond Head Classic.

They’ll be tested, and they’ll lose some games.

But that won’t change the fact that the Shockers should be considered a favorite to earn a top-four seed in the NCAA tournament and make a trip to the Sweet 16 this year. There are two reasons for that: 1. You can bet against that back court at your own risk, and 2. if there is anything that we’ve learned about Gregg Marshall over the years it’s that his teams are going to defend hard and they’re going to execute offensively, and when you do that, you’re going to win a lot of games.

Depth carries Shockers to record-setting win

Cleanthony Early
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Bradley attempted to slow down Wichita State tonight. The Braves’ thought-process was that through controlling the tempo, the Shockers might be caught unawares. However, as Gregg Marshall’s squad demonstrated throughout the 2014 season, this is a special group, and Wichita State defeated the Braves, 69-49 (Geno Ford’s team is now 12-18, 7-10 in Missouri Valley play), becoming the first squad in college basketball history to win thirty straight games in the regular season.

There are many interesting subplots surrounding this Wichita State team: the heady play of Fred VanVleet, the precocious shooting of Ron Baker, Cleanthony Early assuming a more complimentary offensive role, and how the Shocker defense physically grinds opponents. However, the narrative that has largely escaped notice is the depth that the Shockers possess this year. Wichita State lost two key scorers from last year’s team — Malcolm Armstead and Carl Hall — yet the 2014 team is a more offensively efficient group (1.16 PPP versus 1.07). WSU is much more balanced: four Shockers attempt more than 20 percent of the team’s shots when they are on the floor, and the backcourt of VanVleet and Tekele Cotton are able to carry a team’s scoring when other options like Baker or Early are having an off-game. Even a player like Chadrack Lufile, who barely touched the ball in the halfcourt in 2013, has attempted more than 100 two-point field goals and is making 54.1 percent of his shots. Rewind to last season, and if Early, Armstead or Hall weren’t taking the shot, chances are that possession would be a lost.

This depth was evidenced against the Braves: four Shockers cracked double-digits in scoring, and Lufile and Darius Carter scored 7 and 9 points, respectively.

What has also separated this offense from Marshall’s 2013 team is their ability to easily handle zone defenses. For much of the game, Bradley tried to limit WSU’s effectiveness through a 2-3 zone, but the team still scored more than 1.20 PPP. Ever since Indiana State succeeded in slowing WSU’s offense in ’13, a move that initiated a three-game Shocker slide, most of the Valley has attempted to zone defend the Shockers — 26 percent of their offensive possessions come against a zone — but this group can shoot, a skill that bedeviled last season’s team. The core of VanVleet, Early, and Baker make 35 percent or more of their threes, and the team overall is scoring .98 points per zone possession (as compared to .91 in ’13).

These two small, but crucial, differences explains why Wichita State rang up thirty straight wins, and why there is a chance for a 40-0 team this season (it’s just won’t be Kentucky).