It is hard to assess the damage on Wichita State’s roster caused by Earl Watson’s inability to get eligible.
Watson was never at WSU and so we don’t what we’re missing. His highlights and reputation place him as an athletic big man, likely a reserve with the main duties of rebounding, defending and scoring around the rim. Since WSU is at the NCAA limit of 13 scholarships, we can’t be sure how the roster shakes out if he shows up. If he, through some sort of walk-on magic, becomes No. 14, it’s more depth at a needed position. If somebody leaves as a result, the net gain is unknown.
In an age in which junior-college talent is diminished by the rise of prep schools, Watson’s stats at Chipola didn’t stand out. Neither did Ehimen Orukpe’s, and he grew into an important part of a Final Four team.
Orukpe helped the Shockers through a critical stretch last season, playing his best basketball during a seven-game stretch in which Carl Hall sat out with an injury. Orukpe was a three-season Shocker who was ready.
With or without Watson, WSU isn’t as experienced in the post this season. Senior Chadrack Lufile played little last season and he is lone post with experience in a Shocker uniform. Transfer Kadeem Coleby will likely be the starter. Darius Carter, a juco transfer, is a talent who should play a major role. I’m unsure how ready freshman Shaq Morris is to contribute.
If the Shockers stay healthy, that group appears solid. There is no guarantee they can withstand an injury as smoothly as last season _ WSU went 6-1 with Hall sidelined. There is also no guarantee that group will click early in the season against a demanding schedule.
The same goes for point guard. Last season’s team thrived with Malcolm Armstead, Demetric Williams and Fred VanVleet. VanVleet is back, and his backups will be freshmen. Ron Baker can serve as an emergency point guard. With an abundance of talented wings (Baker, Wessel, Wiggins, Cotton), the Shockers are in good shape in the backcourt. Again, however, the ability to survive an injury seems uncertain.
Watson’s absence seems to most affect Lufile, who averaged 7.9 minutes a game and never threatened to become a regular part of the rotation during MVC play. Minor back and shoulder injuries slowed him at time this summer. A season of experience could help him understand WSU’s system and get him in the right spot at the right time. WSU may not need him to play a larger role, if Coleby and Carter adapt and excel quickly. The scenario at post is much different than in recent seasons, when coach Gregg Marshall relied on experienced, mature players such as J.T. Durley, Garrett Stutz, Hall and Orukpe.