Welcome to Palestra Back’s Season Preview! All week we’ll be highlighting some of the most fascinating teams in college basketball. These are the best teams or the highest ranked teams, just the handful that we think you’ll want to have an extra eye on over the next few months.
Why Do We Care?
Wichita State was one of the best mid-major college basketball programs in the nation. It’s noteworthy that the past sentence was in the past tense, as the Shockers are no longer in the Missouri Valley Conference. Wichita State now joins the American Athletic Conference, which is the mess of a league leftover from the death of the Big East, featuring the likes of Cincinnati, UConn, and Temple. As successful as Wichita State was in the MVC, this change really gives them a chance to eat at the adult’s table. No longer will the Shockers need to worry about a weak conference schedule or being criminally underseeded in March (like they were last year).
Greg Marshall’s program couldn’t have picked a better season to make the big move. This team returns everyone from last season, a year in which Wichita State won 31 games and finished 8th in the KenPom rankings. They are ready for their close-up.
Who is Gone?
Literally no one. Every significant contributor to last season’s Shockers is back in Wichita. The two departing seniors played a combined 148 minutes and scored a total of 32 points in 36 games last season. Unless they were both Lincoln-esque leaders on the bench, it’s safe to say the team won’t miss much from them.
Who is Back?
With no one leaving, that means every Shocker of consequence is back this season.
Let’s start with former Kansas guard Conner Frankamp. Since arriving at Wichita State, he’s made 40.5 percent of his three-point attempts and managed a 4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He’s a veteran guard that can control the tempo, handle the ball, bust a zone, or let the game come to him.
The frontcourt is manned by Shaq Morris and Darral Willis, both 6’9 forwards who averaged 9 points and 5 rebounds per game last season. Zach Brown will round out the starting lineup, a veteran with 60 career starts at Wichita State.
The biggest issue for Greg Marshall is that right now he may have the entire team returning to school, but his two best players are hurt. Last year Markis McDuffie led the Shockers in scoring, rebounds, and steals. Before his junior year could even get started, he was sidelined by a stress fracture in his left foot. He’s currently on crutches and not expected back until mid-December.
McDuffie’s absence would be manageable, if not compounded by an injury to point guard Landry Shamet. As only a freshman last season, the young facilitator was a revelation for Wichita State. He led the MVC in offensive rating, effective field goal percentage, three-point percentage, box plus/minus, and win shares. Needless to say after that laundry list of statistical achievements, they’d miss him in the lineup. Luckily (?) he rolled his ankle over the summer, doctors discovered a bigger issue, he rehabbed throughout August and September, and now he’s healthy in time for action. Many expected Shamet to miss the start of the season, but he’s played limited minutes in both of the Shockers opening two games.
Wichita State has looked good so far. It’ll look even better when Shamet is fully recovered and McDuffie is back in the lineup.
Who is New?
Only one newcomer has played notable minutes in the early going for the Shockers: a 7-foot tall, 270 pound center from Helsingor, Denmark who is named ASBJORN MIDTGAARD. I have never heard this name spoken aloud, so your guess on pronunciation is as good as mine. He has four points and six rebounds this season. I think I love him.
AP Poll: #2
Coaches Poll: #8
Make no mistake: this is not just a good mid-major or a contender in the American Athletic Conference. This team can make the Final Four and win the National Championship. Landry Shamet has First Team All-American talent. It’s important that this is team is already ranked so high by computers and humans alike, as they’ll be fighting for a top seed.
Big Games on the Schedule
Wichita State joined the ACC, but might as well have joined the Big XII. In a two week span in December, they’ll play at Baylor, at Oklahoma State, and against Oklahoma. In conference, the two biggest games on the schedule are against Cincinnati on February 18 and to close the regular season on March 4.
Header image via Getty Images / Andy Lyons
Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and senior writer at PalestraBack.com. He has also contributed to ESPN.com, Rush The Court, SALTMoney.org, Larry Brown Sports, and USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain. If you have any suggestions, tips, ideas, or questions, email them to firstname.lastname@example.org
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