20 Questions: Who is the Most Underrated Team in America?Posted by rtmsf on October 18th, 2011
Brian Otskey is RTC’s Big East correspondent and a regular contributor.
Question: Who is the Most Underrated Team in America?
Selecting an “underrated” team is always a difficult proposition. Plenty of teams could qualify for this distinction but it’s a highly subjective choice, routinely exhibited in national polls where one voter’s opinion can be vastly different from another. When picking an underrated team, I look for a roster with highly talented and experienced returning players who aren’t easily recognized by the average college basketball fan. Additionally, a quality coach with a track record of year to year improvement is an important piece of the puzzle. In order to find the ultimate underrated team, I looked at many schools from all across the country. Cincinnati, Creighton, Kansas (yes, they’re underrated), Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, UCLA, Villanova and Wisconsin received lots of consideration but I ultimately settled on a team that might be overlooked because of who they lost to graduation. The Wichita State Shockers are my choice for the most underrated team in the nation heading into the 2011-12 season.
Wichita State loses J.T. Durley, Gabe Blair and Graham Hatch from last year’s team but a returning core of five seniors should keep the Shockers at or near the top of the Missouri Valley Conference. Those three players combined for 23.9 PPG in 2010-11 as the Shockers captured the NIT title but head coach Gregg Marshall also returns a plethora of quality senior guards, led by Toure’ Murry and David Kyles, as he begins his fifth year at the helm in Wichita. Murry has great size and rebounding ability for a guard while Kyles is a lights-out long-range shooter, knocking down just under 40% of his triples last year. With Joe Ragland and Demetric Williams adding depth to the back court along with some freshmen such as Evan Wessell, the Shockers will have a deep and talented guard rotation. Senior wing Ben Smith is primed to break out as he takes on a larger role. Smith made 50% of his field goals and connected on 38.6% of his threes last year in only 16.5 MPG. If Smith and Kyles have a good season, Wichita State will put up a lot of points from behind the arc.
The question for Wichita State will be its front court. Durley and Blair were big time contributors in the paint last season on both sides of the ball. Behind Blair’s stellar defensive rebounding percentage, the Shockers ranked third in all of college basketball on the defensive glass. Wichita State attempted a lot of outside shots but was highly efficient inside the arc behind its two senior stars. This year, the onus is on senior center Garrett Stutz. Standing at seven feet tall, Stutz will become the go-to guy in the post for this team. Wichita State’s offense will continue to focus more on guard play but Stutz and a handful of front court newcomers must give opponents something to worry about in the paint. Freshman Jake White and junior college transfers James Anacreon and Carl Hall will need to play quality minutes in order to prevent defenses from collapsing on Stutz when he receives the ball.
While the Shockers remain a highly talented group despite absorbing three substantial personnel losses, the chemistry, experience and leadership on this team will put them over the top in many games. Wichita State lost a handful of critical games last season, costing the team a berth in the NCAA Tournament when all was said and done. A key loss was early in the season at the Maui Invitational where they fell in a tight one to eventual national champion Connecticut. Wichita State arguably should have won that game and the loss put them in the loser’s bracket with Chaminade and Virginia instead of Michigan State, Washington and Kentucky on the winner’s side. That loss to Connecticut cost them a chance to play another quality opponent but the Shockers also lost to San Diego State and VCU later in the year. This season, their non-conference schedule is a stern but fair test. An early challenge awaits in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, a tournament that includes the likes of Alabama, Maryland, Temple, Purdue and Iona (a strong mid-major this year). Other non-conference games against UAB, UNLV, Utah State and Tulsa should let us know where this team stands early in the season. The Golden Hurricane pushed Wichita State to the brink last season in Wichita and the return trip across the border to Oklahoma certainly won’t be easy.
As his fifth season gets underway in southern Kansas, it’s only a matter of time before Gregg Marshall leads Wichita State to the NCAA Tournament. He’s made it to the dance in seven of his 13 seasons as a collegiate head coach and the Shockers have increased their win total each and every year Marshall has been roaming the sidelines (11-17-25-29). Marshall’s name was floated for bigger jobs after last season but he chose to stay in his comfortable situation in the MVC. He prefers to play at a slower pace, allowing him to utilize a deep rotation that plays strong defense and can wear down an opponent over the course of a game. The Shockers also have an incredible home court advantage at Charles Koch Arena as their passionate fan base routinely fills the building to capacity. With a talented senior-laden roster, this could very well be the year Wichita State gets back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006.