No. 11 Wichita State extended their regular season winning streak to 33 games on Tuesday as they knocked off Memphis in convincing fashion, 71-56.
The Shockers are what we thought they would be. Fred Van Vleet, Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton make up one of the best perimeters in the country, and while losing Cleanthony Early’s scoring pop and versatility at the four hurts them offensively, this is still a group that is going to be able to grind it out with anyone in the country. As one television analyst put it, “Wichita State never met a rock fight it didn’t enjoy.”
Here’s the key for the Shockers: Darius Carter finished with 12 points, including 10 early in the first half as Wichita State was trying to find their footing offensively. If he can be a guy that provides 12 points, eight boards and tough interior defense on a nightly basis, it makes the Shockers a different team.
The more interesting story here is Memphis, who looked like anything but an NCAA tournament team in their season opener. Their front court was solid, as Austin Nichols and Nick King both played fairly well. But beyond that, there are almost too many concerns for the Tigers to list.
Let’s start with Shaq Goodwin, who has yet to find a niche for himself at the college level. He finished Tuesday’s game with four points, three fouls and four turnovers against a team that he really should have been able to overpower inside. That’s a major concern for Josh Pastner, because the Tigers really need to be able to rely on their front line if they’re going to be able to compete for a title in the American.
If they can’t, the Tigers may not have a hope this season, because their back court is an absolute mess right now.
Here’s how their point guards — Kedren Johnson, Markel Crawford and Pookie Powell — did on Tuesday: 1-for-9 shooting, three points, one assists, ten turnovers. I think it goes without saying that stat lines that like simply won’t cut it.
But the issue goes beyond simple ineffectiveness. The strength of the Tigers is on the inside, but when their point guards are unable to get the team into their offensive sets, their power in the paint is negated. Austin Nichols cannot be effective if he can’t get a touch in a spot on the floor where he will be dangerous. Far too may of Memphis’ possessions ended with a forced three or a challenged drive.
The Tigers needed significant changes in their back court if they are going to have a chance to win enough games to get an at-large bid this season.