In preparation for the start of the 2011-2012 regular season on November 7, we’re running a series of preview pieces here on Busting Brackets where we profile certain teams and conferences. You can check out all of the pieces in our preview series by clicking here. Next up in our mid-major series, a look at the Wichita State Shockers.
Wichita State finished the season with 29 wins after they defeated Alabama to win the NIT a year ago. But defending that NIT Championship probably won’t be an option for them this season.
They’ve got bigger plans than that.
Most of the talk early in the off-season was whether head coach Gregg Marshall would return for another season with the Shockers. He was heavily rumored for the N.C. State opening, but chose to sign an extension instead and remain at Wichita State. That was the good news.
The even better news was that Marshall had a heck of a team returning for this season.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
The scoring load for the Shockers will fall on the shoulders of Toure’ Murry and David Kyles, who both averaged around nine points per game last season. That average will certainly go up for both men, as the backcourt will definitely be the backbone of this team.
Murry is a player that can take advantage of a lot of different areas in the game due to his excellent athleticism. Kyles is a great athlete as well, and he’s got the ability to be a breakout scorer.
On the onside, you won’t be able to miss the 7’0 255 lb. Garrett Stutz. Stutz is going to be the force inside for the Shockers, but he’s gonna have some nice help from JUCO All-American Carl Hall. If this duo plays up their potential, there will be very few weaknesses in this lineup.
Where the real question lies when it comes to Wichita State’s NCAA tournament hopes is whether or not they’ll be able to make it in even without winning the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.
Creighton is the favorite in most people’s eyes to win the MVC this year. But it’s hard to say that they’re an overwhelming favorite given the challengers behind them. Aside from Wichita State, there are plenty of other teams in this conference that could rise to the top of this conference. Just look at Indiana State, who earned the bid last season after very little expectations in the pre-season.
So even though Creighton and Wichita State seem like the best bets for the top two spots, there are no guarantees that will happen. This conference will be the one of the best mid-major conference this year, which bodes well for the hopes of getting more than just the conference tournament winner into the Big Dance.
But in a conference like the Missouri Valley, there are no easy wins. And even more so, everyone beats up on everyone. If the Shockers are going to stand out from the pack and lock up an NCAA bid before we even hit the conference tourney in March, they need to get off to a hot start, which might be tough given that five of their first eight MVC games are on the road.
The non-conference schedule isn’t anything to write home about, aside from an interesting slate in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. They’ll start off by playing a Colorado team that will probably struggle this season in their new home in the Pac-12.
But then things pick up a little bit as they’ll face either Alabama, easily a Preseason Top 25 team, or Maryland, a popular pick for sleeper team in the ACC this year. It would be very intriguing to see a rematch with the Crimson Tide, as that game would not look like an NIT final this time around. It would look more like a second round NCAA Tournament game.
Depending on how they do there, they could then get a look at Purdue, Iona, Temple, or Western Michigan. Those first three all have Top 25 potential, so this tournament is a great way for Marshall to give his team an opportunity against teams that will likely be dancing come March.
The pieces are in place for this team to be very good. And given the talent level of the other teams in the MVC, it seems more likely than not that more than one team will get a tournament bid.
If that’s the case, it’s hard to see Wichita State not gaining one of those bids. Their guards are too good and their bigs are primed for breakout seasons. They might not be a 29-win team like they were last season, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be just as good or even better.
Is this a Top 25 team? Not yet. If they play to their capability, they will be though.