Busting Brackets

Wichita State Shockers Poised For Another Run


The Wichita State Shockers, led by a group of team-first veterans, have all the tools needed for another historic March Madness run. But first, can they win the Missouri Valley Conference? 

During the seven-year tenure of head coach Gregg Marshall, the Wichita State Shockers (24-3, 14-1 MVC) have been on a steady climb towards college basketball’s elite status. The climb started even before the 2011 NIT championship, the Final Four appearance in 2013 and last season’s 35-0 start and it is not yet to the summit.

Marshall’s club is a veteran team featuring a few stars that have a role player’s mindset. On both ends of the the floor, Wichita State plays with a team-first mentality and the metrics reflect just that. The Shockers are 17th in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency due to their willingness to share the basketball and make extra passes.

The climb to elite status is not a lonely one. The Shockers are joined atop the Missouri Valley Conference standings by Northern Iowa (25-2, 14-1 MVC). In fact, the Panthers own a 70-54 win over Wichita State and the rematch, which will likely be for the MVC crown, is set for February 28 in Wichita.

While a second consecutive MVC title would be nice, the Shockers’ have higher goals. Behind the leadership of a pair of experienced upperclassmen, Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker, the Shockers are looking to finish the climb while demonstrating the power of team basketball along the way.

Marshall does a brilliant job using the strengths of his players and designing the Shocker’s attack based on their talents.  For example, after running some primary action in transition, Wichita State often ends up in this alignment:

VanVleet, with his changes of tempo and an array of crafty dribble weapons, is brilliant in ball screen action. The Shockers have the lane open for him to drive. Should he draw help from defenders, the Shockers have two shooters spaced on the weakside, including Baker (41.3% from three-point range).

The spacing of this alignment also allows for VanVleet to create for himself using the high ball screen and his dribble weapons.

Another way Marshall uses VanVleet’s talent for ball screen action is by using what are known as “drag screens” in transition. When the Shockers are on the run after a rebound or an opponent’s made field goal, they often set up a double drag screen with the trailing big men. VanVleet “drags” the defense from one side of the floor to the other using those screens

This action is common in the NBA and Wichita State uses it similarly for VanVleet. It can create pick-an-rolls, pick-and-pops, drive-and-kick threes and dribble penetration. It suits VanVleet’s skills and the rest of the Shockers benefit.

Above all, Wichita State plays unselfishly on both ends. They talk, help and recover on defense which has them at 35th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency.

Offensively, the Shockers have a San Antonio Spurs-like quality about them. They space, make the extra pass, run good sets, go inside-out and they show a lack of concern for who gets shots.

With the showdown against Northern Iowa looming, Wichita State will need its best game if they are to claim their second consecutive MVC title. There could be a rubber match in the conference tournament in St. Louis as well.

But Marshall, VanVleet, Baker and the rest of the Shockers are on a greater mission. That mission is to become a program that busts through the stigma of “mid-major” and positions itself for perennial Final Four contention.

Next: Villanova Wildcats: Omri Spellman Commits for 2016

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