Who starts for the Shockers?

In Gregg Marshall’s system, it’s not about the starting five. It’s about the starting seven or eight and the two or three who get significant minutes, too.

Building depth, we have learned, is Marshall’s forte. He likes to push his guys to play hard – really, really hard – with the understanding there will be fresh reinforcements when fatigue sets in. And no matter how good of shape the Shockers are in, fatigue ultimately sets in.

I was asked on “Sports Daily” this morning about the players I expected to start Wichita State’s first game this season. It’s an extremely difficult question – a mind bender, if you will. There are so many candidates and so few spots. One of the biggest challenges facing Marshall and his coaching staff this season will be how to divide time among the 11 or 12 players worthy of getting some.

Mind you, most of the guys vying for playing time have little to no college basketball experience. There are exceptions, of course, Oregon transfer Malcom Armstead, who I think looks like the favorite to start at point guard, has played a lot of minutes. So has senior guard Demetric Williams, who can play both back-court positions.

Center Carl Hall is a returning starter and is the surest thing about this season’s starting lineup.

After Hall, though, things get interesting.

Marshall has what seems like a couple of thousand guards that he has to pare and mold into a working back-court unit. Armstead, Williams, Tekele Cotton, Ron Baker, Ohio transfer Joe Mitchell, Evan Wessel, juco transfer Nick Wiggins and freshman Fred VanVleet are all listed as guards. That’s eight guards. That’s a lot.

I suspect we’ll see a couple of those guys also play at the small forward position when Marshall goes with one of his small lineups. That worked effectively at times last season and you can go small in the size-challenged Missouri Valley Conference without paying much of a penalty.

Up front, the Shockers aren’t as crowded. Hall looks like the definite starter at center with Coffeyville Community College transfer Chadrick Lufile, who goes 6-foot-9 and 255 pounds, also in the mix. And don’t count out 7-footer Ehimen Orukpe, who has worked so hard to get to where he is and could become a 15- to 20-minute guy for the Shockers yet. It’s not out of the question.

Hall could even slide to the power forward spot to make room for Lufile or Orukpe. I also expect 6-8 sophomore Jake White to be a much bigger factor this season. White’s role was expanding at the end of the 2011-12 season and he looked up to the task.

Junior college transfer Cleanthony Early (6-8, 220) has been working at the power forward spot, too, although he’s probably better suited to be a small forward. And 6-7 Derail Green could derail Marshall’s plans and force himself into the front-line mix, too. (By the way, that is not the last time the word “derail” will be used when addressing Green).

I have mentioned 14 players.

There’s no way even Marshall can find enough playing time for 14 players. So, ideally, he’ll find a way to red-shirt a couple of these guys, but that’s never as easy as it sounds. Some players don’t want to be red-shirted, so Marshall might have to tread lightly.

It’s possible the Shockers will use a 10- and maybe even an 11-player rotation this season. Most coaches run from something like that and prefer using eight or nine players regularly. Marshall, though, has been able to make depth work for the Shockers.

But back to the starting lineup question. There will be a starting lineup for that opener, but probably not one Marshall writes down in ink. It will likely change as the season progresses, based on performance. The practice competition will be mighty for Wichita State.

My starting lineup for the regular-season opener against North Carolina Central on Nov. 10 is:

C – Carl Hall

F – Jake White

G – Ron Baker

G – Tekele Cotton

G – Malcolm Armstead

It wasn’t easy to come up with those five. And it won’t be easy for Marshall to come up with his five, either. But his five will mean just a little bit more than my five.

Thanks for reading, everyone.