Shock Therapy: Finding a Cure to Wichita State’s Ills

Posted by Chris Stone on December 23rd, 2015

It’s been a rough first month of the season for Wichita State, as the preseason top-10 Shockers have struggled mightily in non-conference play. After ankle and hamstring injuries to point guard Fred VanVleet and five losses in their first 11 games, the Shockers aren’t even receiving any votes. VanVleet was absent for three of those defeats and Gregg Marshall‘s group managed to pick up two nice non-conference wins over UNLV and Utah once he returned, but their loss on the road to Seton Hall last weekend raised continued concerns about the Shockers’ postseason hopes. Wichita State has just one game to go before Missouri Valley play begins, so Marshall will need to right the ship quickly if his team wants to make its fifth straight NCAA Tournament. The solution, though, begins with identifying the problem. So, what’s the matter in Wichita?

Fred VanVleet will stay smiling as long as he stays healthy. (Fernando Salazar/The Wichita Eagle)

Fred VanVleet will stay smiling as long as he stays healthy. (Fernando Salazar/The Wichita Eagle)

The obvious place to start is with the injuries to VanVleet, the Shockers’ on-floor captain of the ship. It’s easy to attribute three of the team’s losses to those injuries given that VanVleet didn’t play in those games, but Wichita State also lost twice this season with him in the lineup. Dating back to October, the senior has been dealing with injuries that have affected his ankle and hamstring. The result has been a clear lack of explosiveness that has contributed to a nearly 20 percent drop in his shooting percentage at the rim. According to hoop-math, VanVleet has converted on just 34.5 percent of his layups this season. Time to heal, though, appears to be the optimal solution. VanVleet scored 13 points in the Shockers’ dominant win over Nevada on Tuesday by forcing the issue and getting to the foul line 12 times. “That’s the most burst I’ve shown in a while,” he said afterward. His head coach agreed: “That’s the best he’s looked to me,” Marshall said. VanVleet hinted that his recovery is still a work in process, but it’s one that appears to finally be showing some improvement on the court.

On the other end of the floor, Wichita State may need more than just time to adjust to the new rules on fouling. The Shockers came into their contest with Nevada giving up 53.3 free throws per 100 field goal attempts, and Tuesday night’s game didn’t change that as the Wolf Pack attempted 31 free throws in defeat. The Shockers rank 346th out of 351 Division I teams in defensive free throw rate and, as a result, opponents are scoring 27.3 percent of their points against them from the charity stripe. By comparison, opponents managed only 21.7 percent of their points from the foul line against Wichita State last season. For their part, the Shockers appear a bit frustrated with the way games are being officiated. “You never know what you’re going to get and that makes it hard. You have to adapt after the game starts,” Marshall said on Tuesday. Adaptation is valuable on the offensive end where VanVleet noted the Shockers will get “more aggressive” if the officials are sticking with the new rules, but on the defensive end, the team will need to clean up its play in that regard to avoid giving away too many free points in conference play.

The good news for Marshall is that an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament isn’t yet out of the question. The Selection Committee will factor in VanVleet’s injury and, at full strength, Wichita State has two quality wins over UNLV and Utah. However, to play it safe, the team’s best NCAA hope may lie in winning Arch Madness — no easy task with the likes of Evansville and Northern Iowa also competing for the title this season. In order to maximize their chances at another NCAA Tournament berth (and potentially another deep run), the Shockers first two action items need to be geting VanVleet completely healthy and cleaning up their foul troubles on the defensive end.

Chris Stone (136 Posts)

Chris Stone is a contributor to the Big 12 microsite. You can find him on Twitter @cstonehoops.

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