Submitted by Richie Baccellieri on Wednesday, February 8, 2017 at 1:54 PM
Wichita State basketball has been front and center for some moneymaking opportunities in March the past several years. The Shockers were a value play in years like 2013, when they made the Final Four or 2015, when they upset Kansas and made the Sweet 16. Or even last year when they started in the play-in round and won two games. And on the flip side, there was money to be made in 2014 going against a then-undefeated Wichita team in a marquee Round of 32 game against Kentucky. The bottom line? Make sure you have a handle on the Shockers.
This year’s Wichita team looks on the surface like a vintage Gregg Marshall-coached team. The Shockers are 21-4 and coming on strong. On Saturday night, they took on Illinois State, their big Missouri Valley Conference rival this season and Wichita administered an 86-45 beatdown. If you look at the big picture, the Shockers rank in the Top 25 nationally for both offensive and defensive efficiency.
They have two three-point marksmen in the backcourt with Landry Shamet and Connor Frankamp, the latter of whom drilled four for a national audience this past Saturday night. A frontline that is essentially three forwards is talented and athletic. Shaq Morris keyed a decisive rebounding edge against Illinois State with his eleven boards. Markis McDuffie is the team’s best overall player and Darral Willis averages 10 points/5 rebounds himself. These three players go 6’7”, 6’8” and 6’9” across.
Those are all very good reasons to think this Wichita team could again do damage in March. But there is a flip side.
Let’s start by returning to the frontline. Pointing out the Shockers have three quality forwards is another way of saying they don’t have a center. If they face an opponent with a good post presence, they’re going to be overmatched down low.
This year’s Wichita team has several freshmen, including Morris, that draw notable minutes. That’s a departure for a program that had the cohesion of Fred Van Vleet and Ron Baker in the backcourt for the past few NCAA runs. A program like the Shockers is never going to overwhelm anyone with pure talent, so experience becomes the way to level the playing field with the power schools. That’s not something Marshall can do this time around.
Finally, we come to the resume itself. As impressive as Saturday night was, it’s still Wichita’s best win of the season. The non-conference schedule was marked by losses to Louisville and a below-expectations Michigan State team. The Missouri Valley has proven itself good enough to produce legitimate national contenders, but it’s certainly not a deep league and relying solely on a resume built on conference games is risky business for every college basketball bettor.
Moreover, Wichita’s success in recent years has removed some value. Their ATS record is 11-10-1, indicating the oddsmakers are pretty well locked in here.
It’s still going to be worth keeping a close eye on the Shockers. The younger talent also means the prospect for late season improvement is real and Saturday’s game could be a harbinger in that regard. Just before you don’t confuse this Wichita team with the one we’ve seen in March the past several years.