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).