In Gregg Marshall’s defense

I get asked frequently whereGregg Marshall ranks among all-time Wichita State basketball coaches.

It’s a silly question, really. But silly questions come with the territory, so I try and give the best answer I can.

Ralph Miller is No. 1. No doubt. Gene Smithson is No. 2. Then it gets interesting.

Has Marshall done enough to be No. 3 in just his sixth season? Well, maybe. And maybe not.

The Shockers added another win in typical defensive fashion, beating Indiana State, 66-62, in Terre Haute tonight. It was a tough, gritty effort by a WSU team that is tough and gritty. It was the Shockers’ 23rd win of the season and in the past four seasons – and this one isn’t over yet – Wichita State has won 104 games.

Remarkable.

Am I ready to put Marshall ahead of the coach he preceded? If I’m not, I definitely have the itch to. The only thing that Mark Turgeon has on Marshall is two NCAA Tournament wins. And that’s a big one to have, of course.

But Marshall has set a tone at WSU. It’s impossible for me to believe that he’ll ever struggle to win games because the style of basketball he preaches – defense first, defense second – is so sustainable. He has a way of getting his players to buy into his approach.

Do you realize that Wichita State has given up 70 or more points just 25 times the past four seasons, in 133 games? And it has happened only twice this season – in an 82-76 win over Southern Illinois at Koch Arena and in a 71-67 loss at Evansville.

There was at least one overtime in four of the games in which WSU’s opponent reached 70 points, and two were triple-overtime games.

And get this – Wichita State hasn’t allowed an opponent to reach 80 points in regulation since Dec. 4, 2010, when the Shockers were beaten at San Diego State, 84-69. It was one of only four times in four seasons that a WSU opponent has reached 80, and twice it took triple overtime.

A mysterious three-game losing streak zapped the Shockers of some momentum this season, but they’ve picked things up with four wins in a row, including a road sweep at Illinois State and Indiana State. And they’ve done it primarily with defense, although guard Malcolm Armstead and forward Cleanthony Early are playing well offensively.

When Marshall was hired before the 2007-08 season, he said the Shockers would make their biggest marks defensively. And brother, he wasn’t lying.

Wichita State challenges almost every shot and contests almost every rebound. Marshall demands his players sacrifice on the defensive end and rewards them with great offensive freedom.

Marshall rarely gets upset with a player over a bad shot. But just watch him on the sideline if one of the Shockers gives up a good shot to an opposing player.

His style has helped Wichita State create an identity and the Shockers are now on the verge of a second straight Missouri Valley Conference championship, which hasn’t been done at WSU in close to 50 years.

So yes, it’s still Miller No. 1. Smithson is No. 2. But Marshall, thanks to his defensive demands and the winningest period in Shocker history, is rising fast.