Darius Carter

Cleveland State v Kentucky
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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.