Gregg Marshall has questions about the toughness of his Wichita State men’s basketball team and he hopes to find some answers this week.
After the Shockers’ first loss of the season, last Wednesday to West Virginia in the Cancun Challenge championship game, where they were out-rebounded by 17, Marshall has outright challenged his young team in the three practices since returning home.
“We’re still trying to find ourselves and decide which way we want to play,” Marshall said Monday on his radio show. “Are we going to play hair-on-fire, really tough? That’s the thing I’ve questioned about this team all along in my heart and I’ve told them that: ‘The only thing I question is your toughness. Because you’re talented and you’re great kids and you really want to win. But you’re going to have to be physically and mentally tough.’”
WSU’s first chance to respond to that challenge is 7 p.m. Thursday when the Shockers (6-1) host Central Arkansas (1-6) at Koch Arena with the game being broadcast and streamed online by Kansas Yurview.
Watching West Virginia rack up 17 offensive rebounds against WSU made for a painful, but necessary film study for the Shocker big men. Sophomore center Morris Udeze said it was “definitely a wake-up call” for the team.
“We got used to just going and getting the ball,” Udeze said. “But facing competition that’s just as athletic as us or more athletic, you have to remember (Marshall’s) principles. We had a lot of missed (box-outs). We have to get back to checking people out first and then going to get the ball. These last few practices, we’ve broken it down in film and gone over it and now we’re getting back to the fundamentals.”
WSU has some serious bulk on its roster at center with Udeze (6-foot-8, 240 pounds), senior Jaime Echenique (6-11, 258), junior Asbjorn Midtgaard (7-0, 267) and sophomore Isaiah Poor Bear-Chandler (6-9, 250). Usually, that size advantage has been enough for WSU to impose its will in the rebounding battle.
Where the Shockers have encountered issues is when those centers are matched up with players just as tall and more athletic than them. Oral Roberts sophomore Elijah Lufile offered the first example by grabbing five offensive rebounds earlier this season against WSU, then the problem was fully exploited by perhaps the best frontcourt in the nation in West Virginia’s Oscar Tshiebwe and Derek Culver, who combined for nine offensive rebounds and 27 total against WSU.
WSU boarded out at least 74% of its rebounds on the defensive end in its other five games, but struggled against Oral Roberts (69%) and especially West Virginia (season-low 54%).
“I don’t think they can grow or dramatically improve their athleticism at this point,” Marshall said. “So I think they’ve got to improve their technique and I think they’ve got to dig deeper into their gut when it comes to competing.
“When the ball is shot, put a forearm into your man’s chest, stop his advance, turn around and put your behind and hips on his midsection and then jump as high as you can with two hands and secure the basketball. From however many steps that is, from A to F, we would get to A and then that would be it or we would get to C and that would be it. You have to complete the steps. They were beating us to the basketball. They were going around us, over us, through us, pushing us under. It was a multitude of issues, but the bottom line is they were much better at procuring the orange orb better than we were.”
WSU has displayed the ability to be a good rebounding team, as it became one at the end of last season and had been one this season before the West Virginia performance.
The players hope to prove to their coach that the West Virginia game was an outlier starting with a dominant performance on the glass on Thursday against an overmatched Central Arkansas team.
“When it comes down to it, the details are very important and we’ve got to do the little things better,” Wade said. “We want to get back on a roll again and start a new streak.”
A better rebounding performance on Thursday would be a step in the right direction.
“That’s normally what we do to other people,” Marshall said of the West Virginia game. “We had the tables turn on us and I didn’t particularly care for it.”
Central Arkansas (1-6) at Wichita State (6-1)
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Koch Arena (10,506), Wichita
TV: YurView Kansas
Radio: KEYN, 103.7 FM
Vegas line: WSU -23.5
Coach: Russ Pennell, sixth season, 50-114
Coach: Gregg Marshall, 13th season, 314-114
About Central Arkansas: This will be the first meeting between the two programs... The Bears returned four starters from a 14-19 team and were picked to finish fifth out of 13 teams in the Southland Conference. UCA missed the postseason last year, but did advance to the CBI quarterfinals in 2018. It was the first postseason appearance for UCA since transition to Division I in 2006... Junior 7-footer Hayden Koval ranks fourth nationally in blocks per game (4.0) and third among active players in career blocks (205). He was UCA’s top returning scorer and rebounder and was a preseason second team all-conference pick... Head coach Russ Pennell is a Pittsburg, Kan. native. He helped lead Arizona to the 2009 NCAA Tournament after head coach Lute Olson stepped down for health reason and also served as an interim coach for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and took them to the Western Conference finals... Basketball Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen played at Central Arkansas from 1983-87. He arrived as a 6-foot-1 walk-on, but grew to 6-8 and became a two-time NAIA All-American. The school has retired his No. 33 jersey... UCA sophomore Khaleem Bennett played near in Wichita for Sunrise Christian Academy.
About Wichita State: WSU finished runner-up in last week’s Cancun Challenge after beating South Carolina 70-47 before falling to West Virginia 75-63 in the title game. Erik Stevenson averaged 20.5 points and made the all-tournament team, as well as a spot on the AAC’s weekly honor roll... The Shockers earned four votes in the latest USA Today Coaches Poll. They went the entire last season without earning a single vote in the poll... WSU opened last season 8-11, but has since won 20 of its last 25 games. The Shockers are 5-0 at Koch Arena this season and have a 7-game winning streak at home... WSU’s defense is up to 13th on Kem Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency this season, bolstered by the eighth-best two-point defense in the country... WSU ranks top-25 nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio (18th, 1.45), field goal percentage defense (23rd, 36.7%) and scoring defense (25th, 58.9)... WSU is 16-2 all-time against current members of the Southland Conference with the only home loss coming to McNeese State in 1984. The Shockers host one more Southland opponent, Abilene Christian, on Dec. 29.