Not since the great concussion plague of 2007-08 have things looked this bad around Wichita State’s basketball team. The Shockers are down three starters and a fourth is not 100 percent.
- Guard Ron Baker, out six weeks with a stress fracture in his left foot.
- Center Carl Hall, out four weeks with a broken right thumb.
- Guard Evan Wessel, out for an unknown length of time with a broken right pinky, facing possible surgery if he can play with the pain.
- Center Ehimen Orukpe, recovering from sprained right ankle.
“No one is going to feel sorry for us,” junior post Chardrack Lufile said. “We’ve got to have people step up. This is Division I, and no one’s going to feel sorry for you or care.”
WSU is no longer ridiculously deep, although it can play nine, mostly, healthy players. The end of that bench, the former 10-12 players, are players who could play important roles for many MVC teams. So while these injuries are a major problem, it doesn’t have to be a disaster.
Players such as Lufile, Nick Wiggins, Fred VanVleet and Jake White are no longer afforded the luxury of playing a few inconsequential minutes. The Shockers will need them to contribute when the game is in doubt for at least the next month. Maybe longer.
For them, it’s a chance to show they deserve more playing time.
“We’re just going to fill in for the guys that are banged up,” Wiggins said. “We’ve got a very capable team. We have guys that can step up and fill that missing space.”
The best spin on the situation is to realize that Hall, WSU’s leading scorer and rebounder, may miss as few as seven or eight games. Four of those are at home. Can the Shockers win out at home in that stretch and steal one or two on the road? It won’t be easy. Hall’s inside scoring and hustle is impossible to replace. Wessel is right with him as far as toughness. Wessel’s outlook is so uncertain it seems iffy to count on him any time soon. He has missed two games and isn’t practicing while doing conditioning with his pinky taped to the ring finger. Baker is also a long-term project.
At least the backcourt is where WSU is the deepest. There are players on the roster who can do the same things as Baker and Wessel. There is nobody who has shown the ability to score inside with Hall’s efficiency.
WSU plays Illinois State on Jan. 16 and Creighton on Jan. 19, both at home. By no means are those WSU’s next big games. But those two will be a marker. If WSU can get healthier by then, it can reboot things for the rest of the season against two of the Valley’s top teams.
One thing is for certain: WSU can’t commit fouls in large numbers as it did against Tennessee (28), DePaul (31) and Iowa (26). The Shockers possessed the depth to handle foul problems then.