Some quick thoughts on Wichita State’s big win on the road at VCU and the Kansas loss to Michigan State in Atlanta:
* It doesn’t matter how poorly the Shockers shot. It doesn’t matter how sloppy the game sometimes was. All that matters is the W – the unexpected 53-51 W – that will help WSU as much as any early-season win in recent memory.
* This was a big one against an experienced VCU team that knocked what was then an experienced WSU team out of the NCAA Tournament last season. Five players who played extensive minutes for Wichita State in that game are no longer around. Meanwhile, four of five starters are back for the Rams.
* It was interesting to see which players were on the floor for WSU in the final minutes: Guards Malcolm Armstead and Demetric Williams; forwards Ron Baker and Cleanthony Early and center Carl Hall. That’s three seniors, a junior and a red-shirt freshman. That’s about as much experience as Coach Gregg Marshall can get in the lineup, folks. And they were outstanding down the stretch.
* I’ve had some early concerns about Armstead, but the Oregon transfer came up big against VCU. He hit the game’s biggest shot to give Wichita State a late lead and had the best statistical line of the night: 11 points, five rebounds, six assists, four steals. Let’s just say I’m not as concerned now.
* Marshall played a bunch of guys again. But he’s starting to settle on an eight- or nine-man rotation. As the Shockers evolve, I expect the five guys who were on the floor at the end to get most of the minutes. Williams might frustrate Shocker fans from time to time, and he’s not a scorer, but he’s a game-changer defensively. And since this team is going to be offensively challenged for a while, maybe longer, that defense becomes doubly important.
* It’s going to be fun to watch the 6-foot-8 Early, a junior college transfer, try to reach his ceiling. It’s a high one and he’s just going to get better and better as the season evolves.
* Hall is the least expendable Wichita State player. But Baker is a close second. He brings a calmness to the team and he’s one of the only WSU players who has established himself as a dependable three-point threat. Baker is going to have a nice Shocker career.
* Marshall already has the Shockers playing defense at a mid-season level. VCU never got into a rhythm on its home floor.
Switching gears to Kansas:
* It’s not a shock that the Jayhawks lost to Michigan State. But KU coach Bill Self is going to be especially disappointed with one number: The Spartans’ 52 percent field-goal percentage.
* I was disappointed that Perry Ellis played only 17 minutes and Jamari Traylor played 25. Ellis did start and I still expect him to be a huge factor for KU.
* I thought we would see more of the Jayhawks’ bench in this game. I think developing a bench is one of Self’s biggest challenges this season. Kevin Young and Justin Wesley don’t bring a whole lot.
* Guard Nadiir Tharpe, impressive in exhibitions and in KU’s opener against Southeast Missouri, took a step back. Michigan State is one of the best defensive teams the Jayhawks will play this season and it showed, although Kansas did shoot 50 percent.
* Jeff Withey is going to have to be able to score more on the low post for Kansas to have the kind of season I think it is capable of having. He can’t just be a shot blocker/rebounder. He has to score.
* If Elijah Johnson is going to be Kansas’ main shooter, he needs to do better than 6 of 15.
* Ben McLemore is going to be KU’s best player. Very soon.