Wichita Still Undefeated But With Kinks to Work Out as the HuntedPosted by Eli Linton on November 21st, 2013
Eli Linton is a RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Wednesday night’s game between Wichita State and Tulsa in Tulsa.
While the search continues for the mid-majors that have the talent and chemistry to emerge as this year’s Wichita State, the actual Wichita State is looking to build on its Final Four success and reach the next level of sustained excellence, much like Gonzaga and Butler from recent years. On Wednesday night in Tulsa, the Shockers improved to 5-0 after a convincing 77-54 win over the home town university. But a key trend is noticeable — the Shockers have struggled to establish a rhythm in any of those wins until the second half, and they have looked very beatable along the way. For nearly the entire game against Tulsa, they didn’t even remotely look worthy of their #14 national ranking.
Gregg Marshall alluded to the fact that this road game would be the first big test of the year and he was right. The Shockers looked sluggish and a little sloppy right out of the gate as they only managed eight points in the first five minutes of play. Tulsa was clearly outmatched in talent, but they were aggressive and gained confidence as the game wore on. The Shockers couldn’t figure out the Hurricane’s zone defense in the first half, and their own full-court press was ineffective, leading to some easy buckets for the home team. The game was tied at the half, but it wasn’t until nine minutes left in the game did the Shockers finally gain the lead for good and take momentum by forcing Tulsa into some turnovers and knocking down some three-pointers. The only time the Shockers showed flashes of that Final Four team came with 5:30 to go when Tulsa made one last surge to cut the lead to 63-53, but threes by Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker, a dunk, and a steal on four straight possessions sealed the game and emptied the seats. It lasted just two minutes, but it was the only time the Shockers were in complete control. VanVleet and Baker were outstanding, both scoring 21 points each on a combined 14-of-23 shooting.
Despite the poor first half, Marshall was really pleased with his team’s performance, and even went as far as to say this was the best his team had played all year. “That’s the type of second half we were waiting for,” he said. “And it was against a team that was giving us everything they had. I’m really proud of them. “ The Shockers are experiencing what most teams go through the first time they become the giant instead of the giant-killer. Teams come out gunning for them, and they have to play their best basketball every night from the opening tip. “We’re starting to [accept the responsibility of being a top team],” said VanVleet, who led the Shockers with 21 points and six assists. “It caught us off guard a little bit in the first couple games. Now we’re accepting the challenge and trying to stay in hunting mode, and not be the one getting hunted.” Wichita State is also still looking for its identity, and the cohesion and chemistry that carried them to a Final Four. They may have found it last night in the waning minutes against Tulsa. Gregg Marshall’s team will need to lean on the few remaining guys who experienced the magic last March if they are going to survive the hunt.