Wichita State starts basketball practice today – six words most Shocker fans can’t wait to hear each fall. They get their first look at the team at Shocker Madness on Saturday. The exhibition game against Newman is Nov. 7.
I haven’t talked to a fan who isn’t excited about the season. It’s not to the level of the post-Sweet 16 euphoria in 2007. There is definitely a feeling among the Koch Arena crowd that coach Gregg Marshall is bringing in athletes who are fun to watch. Last season’s closing rush (WSU went 11-6 after starting MVC play 0-6) convinced them it’s only a matter of time until the Shockers are a consistent NIT/NCAA team as they were from 2002-03 to 2005-06 (albeit in days when the NIT was less selective).
That jump could happen this season. I don’t think it would surprise too many if the Shockers took another step forward and had 20-plus victories on selection day. The Shockers took an important step last season by reestablishing a sense of dominance (and buzzer-beating karma) at Koch Arena. WSU plays 17 home games, which should give it a good start on its way to beating last season’s 17-17 record.
It might take another season. While nine players (three starters) are back from last season, this remains a team that is a bit inexperienced. There is one senior (guard Clevin Hannah). Several sophomores must play big roles for the Shockers to improve. We think they will continue to grow, but sophomore slump is a cliche for a reason. The biggest concerns are scoring and winning on the road. The Shockers were a poor shooting team in 2008-09. Is that a terminal condition, or is it something that experience fixes? On the road, even during their stretches of good home play, the Shockers often stumbled around away from home.
Most Valley teams should be improved. I count seven of the 10 teams who will start the season believing they are capable of finishing in the top three.
What’s the key for WSU? I will put it on two sophomores – Garrett Stutz and David Kyles. Both can help where WSU needs it most – scoring. Both showed great potential, mixed with slumps and struggles, as freshmen. If they step forward and be consistent contributors, the Shockers are a much improved team.
Around the MVC
- Northern Iowa’s big men are bigger.
- Four new Bluejays are ready for a tough day.
- Illinois State newcomer Austin Hill should contribute right away.
- Bradley coach Jim Les is skipping the goal-setting meeting.
- Indiana State coach Kevin McKenna isn’t really in the spirit of madness events. Some fans might like his way just fine.
- Josh Young needs a lot of help at Drake.
- FoxSports.com’s Jeff Goodman thinks SIU is on its way back. That would not surprise me. I’ve got enough fresh memories of SIU’s dominance that I can see them winning big again. It’s not a sure thing as it was two years ago, however. The Ryan Hare issue could be a problem.