by Alex Chiles, who you can find on Twitter @axchiles
Photo credit: Me! Check out those stripes!
Welcome back to Shock Thoughts, my weekly column to keep you up to date on Wichita State men’s hoops. A quick reminder on the format: I’ll recap the week that was, preview the week that will be, pepper in some random thoughts, grade my last prediction, and make some new ones. Here we go.
The Week That Was: Houston (W 81-63) & USF (W 95-57)
Never thought I’d be able to lump these two games together in a single recap, but the Shockers dominated both contests. Against Houston, two seemingly equally matched teams had polar opposite performances. The Cougars, a team whose strengths include star Rob Gray and their excellent three point shooting, struggled mightily on both accounts. Gray ended up as Houston’s leading scorer but only netted 13, missing a lot of shots in the process and never really looked comfortable. As for the three point shooting, I was a bit flabbergasted not only by how poorly they shot it (27% for the game and didn’t hit their first one until the 4:49 mark in the first half) but how little they shot it (only 15 attempts for the game). As for the Shockers, they had probably their best half of the year in the first 20 minutes of this one. They were clicking on both ends of the floor and hitting three pointers at will. The first half numbers were incredible, 59% from the field and 63% from three. Despite coming back to earth in the second half, Houston was simply in too big of a hole to come back in this one. Let’s turn to the USF matchup, which turned out much more predictably. USF was noticeably overmatched, fell behind early, and never recovered. WSU had another incredible offensive day, slicing up the Bulls in transition (taking full advantage of USF’s 18 turnovers) and against their zone (shooting 63% from the field and 60% from three).
-No question about it: this was an impressive week for the Shockers, playing closer to their potential than we’ve seen all year.
– Despite the lackluster performance by Houston this week, on paper they are a formidable team and the rematch in Texas less than two weeks away could still be very interesting. Look for Rob Gray to have a much better performance in front of his home crowd.
-In the non-con schedule, WSU missed some opportunities to get their deep bench players minutes during several much-closer-than-expected games. WSU made up for that this week, getting some minutes to guys like CJ Keyser (who scored 8 against USF), Kaelen Malone (a JUCO transfer), Midtgaard (who is looking more and more comfortable). This experience could help an already deep team get deeper. How nice would it be to throw Midtgaard in for a few minutes in a NCAA tournament game to grab a few boards and draw some fouls?
–Injury update: Conor was out sick with the flu against USF, but otherwise the team is still at full strength.
–Big Picture update: Two big wins this week put the Shockers at 3-0 in the conference, 13-2 overall. They have three excellent wins (two of which were on the road) and no bad losses. They’ve moved up to #5 in the AP poll thanks to a slew of teams ahead of them losing last week. They currently find themselves at #11 on KenPom and bracketologist Joe Lunardi has the Shockers as a 3 seed.
The Week That Will Be: ECU (Thurs 1/11, 8pm, away) & Tulsa (Sat 1/13, 6:30pm, away)
-After a week of home games, the Shockers will split time between North Carolina and Oklahoma this week. In NC on Thursday, the Shockers will play the Pirates of East Carolina University. Quick hitters on ECU: 7-8 on the year, 1-3 in conference, no quality wins, cellar dweller in KenPom. They recently defeated USF by a slim 2 point margin, the same team the Shockers just throttled by nearly 40. They have a balanced scoring attack with three players averaging between 12-15 per game. They are dead last in the country in three point percentage (26%). Their coaching situation is a bit in limbo, as head coach Jeff Lebo resigned this past November after the team’s 2-4 start. Michael Perry has stepped into the role on an interim basis. About every way you look at it, ECU is going to be seriously overmatched in this one.
-In comparison to ECU, Tulsa is a much more worthy opponent. They are 10-6 (including a victory over K-State here in Wichita) and 3-1 in conference (sole loss being to Memphis in a road game). They beat UCONN a week ago in an double overtime thriller. Before facing the Shox on Saturday, they’ll have another game against Houston under their belt. They are #121 in KenPom (comparable to former Shocker foe College of Charleston, who WSU beat by almost 20) and a little below average on three point shooting as a team. Their best player is senior forward Junior Etou, who leads Tulsa in both points and rebounds per game, shooting nearly 50% from the field. They are coached by Frank Haith, a very experienced guy who previously led Mizzou and Miami (Fla).
Last Week’s Predictions:
-Houston’s three point shooting and 20+ point performance from Rob Gray beats WSU in a close one.
Sheesh. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Rob Gray struggled and Houston had a very uncharacteristic night from the three point line. Shockers won big. No points for me, but I don’t mind.
-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+.
Not the most daring prediction, but I nailed it. 1 point.
Prediction Score for the Year: 7.5/14 (54%)
-Much like the USF game, WSU will overmatch and overpower ECU in a blowout.
-Tulsa will prove more formidable and will provide a more hostile road game environment, but the Shockers win an ugly, grind-it-out road game.