Danny Spewak (@dspewak) is an RTC correspondent. He’s covering the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament in St. Louis through Sunday.
Three Key Takeaways.
- That Wichita State Defense: It is quite possible the Shockers played the best 12-minute defensive stretch of any team in college basketball this season. Illinois State did not make a field goal until Tyler Brown’s wide-open layup in transition with fewer than eight minutes to play in the first half. Wichita State led 17-1 out of the gate and punished the Redbirds on the defensive end. They didn’t get a single open look in the opening minutes of the game, and when they managed to actually find a shot, it either air-balled or barely hit the rim. Wichita State’s guards are just so fast and so athletic on the perimeter. When they’re really guarding and playing with energy and momentum, Demetric Williams, Tekele Cotton and Malcolm Armstead are like a pack of hyenas. There might not be anybody better in the country. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that Ehimen Orukpe and Carl Hall were like The Incredible Hulks in the paint, too, especially at the onset of the game.
- A Microcosm of Illinois State’s Season: Things could not have started more poorly for the Redbirds, but they overcame the horrific offensive start and actually put a scare into the Shockers. Once they settled down offensively, got stronger with the basketball and played a little more patiently, the shots started to fall and Jackie Carmichael went to work. In the blink of an eye, a 15-0 ISU run helped tie the game, and the Shockers led by just two points at halftime. Of course, the game got away from Illinois State in the second half as the offense began to stall again. Wichita State’s physicality proved too much, and it was a frustrating way for the Redbirds to exit Arch Madness after advancing to the title game a year ago. Even after losing coach Tim Jankovic to SMU – and remember, he took point guard Nic Moore along with him – the Redbirds looked like a team with championship aspirations. Carmichael has NBA potential, and the rest of the crew was back from a young roster that seemed to really grow up during the 2012 MVC Tournament. But first-year head coach Dan Muller’s squad sputtered, starting Valley play 0-6 and never quite recovering. There were flashes of that championship talent, mainly during a victory at Creighton in early February. It’s why many believed the Redbirds had an outside shot to win this thing as a six seed, and it’s why that 15-0 run in the middle of the first half had the thousands of Shockers fans in the building wiping their foreheads a little bit. Illinois State’s magic run never materialized, though, and now Muller is left wondering how he’ll recover in Year Two.
- Wichita State’s Depth Is Starting to Form: Marshall’s team is finally healthy. And it’s completely healthy— meaning absolutely every key contributor is back. That’s been evident during the first two games of this tournament, as Marshall has flooded subs in and out of the game at every possible turn. He’s basically playing two lines of players, and all of them get after it on the defensive end and rebound the heck out of the ball. Much was made of Carl Hall’s return during the middle of MVC play, but look no further than a guy like Ron Baker as an example of the kind of depth Marshall has at his disposal. Marshall has hailed his return from injury as an important factor in the Shockers’ development, and after making a bunch of key plays in the quarterfinals, he scored seven points in the semis on Saturday. Marshall played 10 players against the Redbirds. Is it a coincidence that Illinois State wore down in the second half?
Star of the Game: We’re giving the game ball to the entire Wichita State defense. Yeah, that’s probably a cop out, but it’s absolutely necessary in this instance. The Shockers manhandled Illinois State on every level, especially at the beginning of the game. “I mean, they couldn’t score,” Marshall said. “They were having a hard time putting the ball in the basket, and this is a prolific scoring team.” Tyler Brown, who lit up Northern Iowa on Friday and made four threes in the first five minutes of that quarterfinal game, was shut down by Tekele Cotton on Saturday. That’s the kind of effort everybody gave, and it’s why the Redbirds’ offense fizzled in the second half.
Sights and Sounds: Gregg Marshall has a lot of pull with the officials, apparently. After the officials called a charge on one of his players and took away a basket, Marshall exploded on the sidelines. Bright red face and everything. A few seconds later, they changed the call. “I’m even helping the referees,” Marshall said to the radio producer at the scorer’s table.