Rashard Kelly

Wichita State forward working hard to improve offensive repertoire

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While Wichita State returns senior guards Ron Baker and Fred Van Vleet, two of the best players in the country, and adds quality transfers in graduate student forward Anton Grady and former Kansas guard Conner Frankamp (he’s eligible in December) there’s still the need to account for the loss of two key contributors in Tekele Cotton and Darius Carter.

Cotton was the team’s best defender while also averaging 9.8 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game, and Carter led the team in rebounding (5.4 rpg) to go along with his 11.4 points per contest. The addition of Grady will definitely help the Shockers as they look to get out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament for the third time in the last four years, but there’s a need for other contributors as well.

One such possibility is rising sophomore forward Rashard Kelly, who played nearly 14 minutes per game as a freshman. According to Paul Suellentrop of the Wichita Eagle, Kelly’s been hard at work this summer in an attempt to add polish to an offensive game that produced just 2.9 points per game in 2014-15.

Kelly and coaches agreed on a plan for him to shoot 500 jumpers four or five days a week outside of practices. He stuck to that plan and said he made a high of around 397. Extending his arm and concentrating on proper follow-through is helping his accuracy.

“The more you shoot, the more confident you are and the bigger the goal gets for you,” he said.

It isn’t as if Kelly will be asked to be the Shockers’ feature option this season; that’ll once again be left to their star guards with Grady giving them a quality front court scorer. But he’ll have to be a supplementary piece head coach Gregg Marshall can rely on consistently, which is why Kelly’s putting in the aforementioned work on his game (he’s also improved his body per the story).

And if Kelly can emerge as that option, it simply makes a team that will already be good an even tougher one for opponents to slow down.

Rashard Kelly’s last-second putback gives No. 11 Wichita State an 80-79 overtime win over Hawaii

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No. 11 Wichita State outscored Hawaii 17-6 in second-chance points, none bigger than Rashard Kelly’s putback in the lane with 3.8 seconds left, as the Shockers escaped with an 80-79 overtime victory over the Rainbow Warriors to advance to the Diamond Head Classic championship game on Christmas night against George Washington.

Kelly scored a career-high 12 points. While struggling from the field, Ron Baker led Wichita State with 17 points, off 5-of-19 shooting (2-of-11 from three). Aaron Valdes and Isaac Fleming both matched Baker’s point total to lead Hawaii.

Once again, Tuesday night’s thriller put a spotlight on the Wichita State offense, still feeling the effects of Cleanthony Early’s departure. The Shockers were under 40 percent from the field and hit a quarter of their shots from beyond the arc.

Wichita State found itself down 11 to Alabama last Tuesday. A full-court press held the Crimson Tide without a field goal for almost the final six minutes of regulation in a 53-52 win for the Shockers. Against the Rainbow Warriors, Wichita State needed timely defensive plays.

Baker blocked a 3-pointer from Negus Webster-Chan at the end of regulation and the Shockers also forced an errant inbounds pass, trailing 77-75, with under a minute to play. Fred VanVleet would take advantage with his lone 3-pointer of the game.

On Thursday night, Wichita State will have its offense tested again, facing George Washington, ranked top 20 in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to kenpom. After losing to Virginia, Seton Hall and Penn State, the Colonials are also in search of a marquee non-conference win.

Top 25 Countdown: No. 12 Wichita State

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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.

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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.

Weight room providing valuable lessons for Wichita State newcomers

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With the triumvirate of Fred Van Vleet, Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton back for another season, the Wichita State Shockers will once again be the favorites to not only win the Missouri Valley Conference but factor into the national discussion as well. Gregg Marshall’s Shockers won 35 straight games, only to see their season end in disappointing fashion as they fell to eventual national runner-up Kentucky in the NCAA tournament.

Yet despite the return of the three players mentioned above there are some personnel losses to account for, with forward Cleanthony Early being the most notable. Wichita State will have seven newcomers on the roster, including freshmen Rashard Kelly and Rauno Nurger, and for those players the preseason is of great importance.

Getting acclimated to the way in which Marshall and his staff want things done is one of the important tasks for those players, along with putting in the work needed to ensure that they’re ready to fight for playing time when practices begin. That’s meant a lot of hard work in the weight room, and according to Paul Suellentrop of the Wichita Eagle the newcomers have been able to follow the lead of a group of veterans that expects to be successful.

[Strength and conditioning coach Kerry] Rosenboom even took the bold step of comparing [Kelly and Nurger] to Graham Hatch, a former Shocker who is the poster boy for reshaping his body and improving from a fringe talent to a starter through work in the weight room.

“I look at Ron and Fred and Tekele and Evan as my great leaders in here,” Rosenboom said. “I look at Rauno and Rashard and see the next leaders. They’ve got such strong goals already that they don’t wait for their turn, they want to take it right now.”

There’s no question who the leaders will be for Wichita State this season, with the veteran trio mentioned above, senior Darius Carter and redshirt junior Evan Wessel filling those roles in various capacities. But they’re going to need help, and that’s where newcomers such as Kelly and Nurger come into play.

And in that regard, it’s a good sign for the Shockers that two of their newcomers have made strides in improving their bodies while also learning from the more experienced players what it takes to be successful at this level.