For What it’s Worth: Shocks, ‘Hawks and ‘Cats
“That crowd. God, I hate ’em. And I love ’em. I’m not taking away from their (Wichita State’s) play tonight — but I thought the crowd won the game for them in the second half”.
---Southern Illinois’ Barry Hinson on WSU’s sixth man last night
Hard to impress---
The Shockers are in the unenviable position of being able to do absolutely nothing to impress for the remainder of the season. WSU will be expected to win every game they play between here and Selection Sunday and win by a wide margin. That’s a minimum prerequisite just to hold serve nationally, actually, in terms of their RPI, Wichita State is sure to lose ground with their remaining schedule.
Waiting to exhale---
---the Shockers didn’t wait at all against Southern Illinois, coming off their biggest road swing of the Valley schedule last week, they were bound to be a little less focused, especially against a team that they’d already handled on the road and they were. After taking a mandatory day off on Sunday, having just one day to prepare for the Salukis probably didn’t help. Whatever the case, the Shockers simply didn’t play well for the better part of 36 minutes and really didn’t close the deal until the final 120 seconds against a game SIU.
We’ve talked about it a lot---staying interested is going to be the biggest challenge for the Shockers until they get to St. Louis, where they’ve never won a title. The chance to do that on a floor where they could very well be playing again two weeks later in the NCAA’s would be a pretty good motivator.
How to improve?
It’s a legitimate concern and it can only be answered through practice, at this point those sessions are more competitive than games they’re playing—at least from a standpoint of improving. Gregg Marshall will look for what he always does—exceeding the energy and enthusiasm of an opponent, getting good shots in their offense, wearing down teams defensively (as they almost always do), taking care of the ball (not as good lately) and rebounding (Shockers are just 8-6 over the last four years in games when they’re outrebounded—102-16 when they outrebound their opponent).
It’s been nice to see some good young talent in the Valley lately—Anthony Beane is just a sophomore at Southern Illinois, which will return four of its starters. Milton Doyle is an outstanding freshman at Loyola, which returns its entire team as does Evansville around the MVC’s leading scorer DJ Ballentine. Illinois State will also return all five of its starters, so the arrow in the league appears to be pointed up…how far up, is another question.
It was one of those nights that make a coach rethink his profession. Kansas couldn’t defend a pick and roll to save its life; they were soft in the middle and a step slow most of the night against Kansas State. But even nine points up with just over a minute and a half left the Wildcats couldn’t close the deal, just like they never seem to be able to close out the deal on KU.
With Andrew Wiggins scoring on the type of put back that most mortals can only dream of, the ‘Hawks forced overtime…of course they did, (only this time-- their time was over.) KU suffered a relatively poor shooting night in losing at Bramlage Coliseum for only the third time ever. Moving forward you wonder if Bill Self knows what he has. Sure, he has great talent, but its great talent that’s been slow to coalesce.
It was great to see Conner Frankamp get 15 minutes against the ‘Cats, it was even better that he looked like he belonged. In fact, Self even ran a little offense to try and get him a couple of shots. I wish the same could be said for Perry Ellis who, I continue to maintain, is the best player in the KU lineup. When you have talents like Wiggins and Joel Embiid (still projected by some as the top overall pick should he decided to come out after his freshman years) it’s hard not to have the offense go through them. But Ellis has been the most consistent performer all season and with a few more looks each game ( Wiggins averages nearly 2.5 more shots per game), I think he could become dynamic.
Having lost three of four coming in, one might not have given K-State much of a chance in their home stand with Texas and KU. The sweep all but cements the Wildcats NCAA chances and gives them a good chance to improve their seeding. Marcus Foster continues to be one of the most fun players in the country to watch—what a great couple of games he had against the ‘Horns and ‘Hawks. Three of the next four come on the road, where Kansas State has dropped four straight. All three trips (Baylor, OU and Texas Tech) are winnable, which is exactly what the Bears, Sooners and Raiders are saying about their visits from the ‘Cats. There’s still plenty of room and time for jockeying of position.