by Alex Chiles, who you can find picking out a black shirt to “Stripe Charles Koch Arena” for the Houston game on Twitter @axchiles
Welcome back to Shock Thoughts, my weekly column to keep you up to date on Wichita State men’s hoops. First, I want to once again quickly plug our very first podcast on The Dive 35, creatively titled The Dive 35 Show. On this debut episode, Colin and I discuss KU and WSU heading into the conference season. It’s broken up into two parts: the main discussion and a lightning round.
Okay, back to Shock Thoughts. A brief reminder on the format: I’ll recap the week that was, preview the week that will be, throw out some random thoughts, grade my last prediction, and make some new ones. Alrighty then, here we go.
The Week That Was: UCONN (W 72-62)
-UConn went full-time zone against the Shockers, and it went about as well as they could’ve hoped. The Shockers once again struggled against zone, but was fortunate that three point shooting kept them in it. And down the stretch, three point shooting sealed the deal. On consecutive possessions in the closing minutes, Connor and Landry hit three pointers to finally put it out of reach. The Shockers shot 50% from three, compared to 14% for UConn. You can point to a lot of discrepancies (including rebounds), but the Shockers aren’t going to get beat often this year without a great opposing performance from the three point line. Another problem for UConn? Their triple threat did very well (18, 18, and 17 for Adams, Larrier, and Vital), but nobody else on the team scored more than 4 points. Despite all of that, the game was competitive all the way through. This was an ugly, grind it out game, the type you have to win on the road multiple times during a conference season. And the Shockers got it done.
-Welcome to the American, WSU: not only did they have about 1300 miles to travel, that travel included a delay that landed the Shockers in Hartford only about 12 hours before tip-off. The Shockers didn’t have a whole lot of time to acclimate to the opposing arena, but luckily as Gregg Marshall pointed out, the baskets in Connecticut are still 10 feet high.
–Injury update: As the say in hockey, the Shockers are finally “full strength!”. McDuffie didn’t start against UCONN (I expect he will soon), but played 16 minutes. Look for that to increase over the next few games.
–Big Picture update: Same story as last week. While it wasn’t pretty, a win is a win, especially on the road. The Shockers have improved their record to 11-2. They have two excellent road wins and no bad losses. They currently find themselves at #12 on KenPom. Despite the victory this week, bracketologist Joe Lunardi has dropped the Shockers one spot to a #3 seed.
The Week That Will Be: Houston (Thurs 1/4, 6pm, home) & USF (Sun 1/7, 3pm, home)
-WSU’s week begins on Thursday with their first ever home American game, and it’s certainly not a gimme. Kelvin Sampson’s Houston Cougars come to Koch Arena with a great 12-2 record (2-0 to start the AAC). That includes victories against Wake Forest (neutral site), Arkansas (home), St. Louis (road), and Temple (home). They have one bad loss (Drexel, ouch- 245 in KenPom) and one much better loss (at LSU). Houston themselves clock in at #38 on KenPom (for reference, that’s two spots behind Baylor), with a better offensive rating than defense. Let’s check them out in two categories that WSU has struggled against this season: 3 point shooting and star players. First up, Houston is a great three point shooting team. They shoot about 40% from outside, putting them at #27 in the country in that statistic. Star players? They’ve got one: Rob Gray averages 19 points a game and is a great all around shooter.
I feel like we should end on a positive note, so here’s something that *may* be a factor. The biggest crowd Houston has played in front of all year was approx 8,500 people at LSU (a game they lost). Koch Arena holds 10,500 fans and should be rocking for the teams’ first ever home AAC opener. Let’s home that rattles the Cougars a bit.
-On Sunday, WSU gets to stay home to play the University of South Florida. USF should be a much different kind of opponent than Houston. They are 7-8 on the year (0-2 in conference thus far). Adding to that, much of their non-conference schedule was pretty soft- they lost probably the only opportunity they had for a quality non-con win at Indiana in November. In the conference so far, they lost to Houston at home and then were promptly thumped by SMU on the road by a 40-point margin. Before playing the Shox, they’ll have one more AAC game under their belt, a home game against ECU. They are a paltry #298 in KenPom, they aren’t a great 3 point shooting team (35%, #201 in the country), and don’t seem to have a big time star (several players average between 7-13 points a game).
Last Week’s Predictions:
-Despite it being a road game against a traditional powerhouse, this isn’t a great UCONN squad and WSU seems to match up well with them. WSU wins by double digits.
This game was indeed more competitive than I imagined, but the Shockers did pull it off by double digits (just barely). A point for me.
Prediction Score for the Year: 6.5/12 (54%)
-Houston’s three point shooting and 20+ point performance from Rob Gray beats WSU in a close one.
-While WSU hasn’t always dominated inferior opponents this season, it’s hard to see how USF hangs around against the Shox. WSU wins by 20+.