Wichita State Solidifies Its Identity in CBE Championship RunPosted by Brian Goodman on November 27th, 2013
Brian Goodman is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from last night’s CBE Championship game between Wichita State and BYU.
Some of Wichita State’s biggest questions entering the season surrounded the players who hadn’t yet spent a lot of time in Gregg Marshall‘s program. After the Shockers’ Final Four run, the secret was out about Cleanthony Early‘s legitimacy as an NBA prospect, but how would Ron Baker transition from a role player into a full-time wing? Was Fred VanVleet ready to shoulder a heavier workload, too? How quickly would transfers Nick Wiggins and Darius Carter pick things up? For a team returning as much talent as the Shockers retained, there were still plenty of unknowns, but three weeks into the season, we have a much clearer picture after they took down DePaul and BYU in this week’s CBE Classic.
Wichita State is a team that can win playing any style, not much unlike last year’s group. They were unstoppable on Monday against the Blue Demons, capitalizing on nearly every mistake Oliver Purnell’s team made (and there were a lot of them) en route to a 90-72 win. But it was a much different story Tuesday night against the Cougars, a team that prides itself on an uptempo pace and sweet shooting. The match-up began exactly the way BYU wanted. The Cougars pushed out to a 21-8 lead on the hot hand of Matt Carlino while Wichita State clanked 13 of its first 15 shots from the floor. Nothing was easy for them in the early going; even one of the Cougars’ weakest points, rebounding, showed surprising life. “We weren’t great on the glass. It seemed like 10 times we had the ball with one hand or didn’t secure it the way we should,” Marshall said after the game.
But a strong sense of toughness led the Shockers as they clawed their way back and surged ahead for good. It was the kind of night where Wichita State required every ounce it could muster to keep the high-scoring Cougars off the board, but they came through. Baker will have better shooting nights than Tuesday’s 5-of-16 outing, but the best players find ways to impact the game when their shots don’t fall, and that’s exactly what his night was about. Whether he was collecting a loose ball, disrupting the Cougars’ offensive rhythm, connecting on all 11 of his free throws, or battling through plays like the elbow he took to the jaw from BYU center Nate Austin late in the game, Baker displayed everything he brings to the table in the space of one game.
Baker’s individual performance was emblematic of the game for Wichita State, and for his efforts, and he was named the tournament’s MVP as a result, but VanVleet’s contributions were also timely. The sophomore only made five baskets, but four came in the late stages of the second half, each of them extending Wichita State’s lead from one possession to two as BYU continued to attack and convert from the foul line. But the Shockers’ perseverance didn’t stop there, either. Wiggins and Carter aren’t the primary contributors on this team, but they were incredibly efficient on the glass, picking up 13 boards off the bench. “There were a lot of really physical plays in the second half, and I think Wichita State did a better job of playing through them,” BYU head coach Dave Rose said. “They kind of wore us out.” That’s a telling quote from Rose, as normally, it’s his team’s brand of basketball that wears out its opposition. Expect the Shockers to run a couple dozen more teams ragged before this season is over. Come March, another Final Four might not be in the cards, but pick against Wichita State at your own peril.