Jan 26, 2012, 12:05 PM EDT
Love me some Doug McDermott and Creighton. Been on the Bluejays’ bandwagon before the season started and neither McDermott (23.2 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 50.7 from deep) or Creighton (19-2) have disappointed.
But that adulation has overshadowed another Missouri Valley team deserving of equal praise – Wichita State.
The Shockers might even be the better team.
An 86-74 win against Evansville Wednesday night kept them tied with Creighton atop the conference (both are 9-1) and on target for their first NCAA tournament berth since 2006. WSU has won 16 of its last 17 – including an impressive 89-70 win over UNLV – with its lone loss coming to … Creighton. (One reason why the Jays get more national attention.)
But chew on this: The Shockers (18-3) are one of seven teams whose offense and defense rank among the Top 20 in adjusted efficiency on kenpom.com. The other six? Syracuse, Kentucky, Michigan State, Kansas, Ohio State and North Carolina.
That’s some impressive company.
Much of the credit goes to coach Gregg Marshall, who took over from Mark Turgeon in 2008 and has watched his team improve every season. That’s not just empty praise, either. They’ve gone from 11-20 to 29-8 last season and could hit 30 wins this year. As Matt Norlander notes, the Shockers’ offensive and defensive efficiency has improved every season, a testament to his coaching and his players’ dedication.
From his story:
“When we got here, it was a little bare,” Marshall said. “Mark Turgeon had done a wonderful job. They were eighth-ranked in the country in Christmas of ’06, and then lost 14 out of 22, and it just fell apart. There were transfers, and when l arrived April 14, 2007, we had seven scholarships to give.”
The first year wasn’t good, but it remains the only time Marshall’s coached a team under .500. Since then, the real mark of his work as a coach is shown in the chart below. Every year since his arrival in Wichita, his teams have noticeably, incrementally gotten better in scoring more points per possession and allowing few points per possession, save the minor dip (103.8 to 102.2) on offense from year one to two. It’s incredibly tough to get your team to improve like this year each over the course of five seasons. He’s approaching a ceiling, which is a good thing — there isn’t much room left to climb!
Marshall attributes the ever-rising rankings to his change in strategy. Up until two years ago his teams jogged the ball up the floor after a made basket, always running a methodical set play. Now it’s pushing more frequently, evidenced by the 66. 8 possessions per game, also an all-time high for Marshall at Wichita State.
“Maybe I’ve just gotten smarter,” Marshall joked. “Maybe I’m playing more to the strengths of my group than I was earlier in my career. And as for our rebounding, we always say the defensive is possession is not over when the shot is taken. It is only over when you have the ball secure and are now on offense.”
(Also be sure to check the story for a couple of nifty graphs that help explain what WSU’s done.)
Three big dates remain on Wichita State’s schedule: A Feb. 1 game at Missouri State, a BracketBuster game (opponent TBD) and a Feb. 11 rematch against Creighton in Omaha.
If WSU wins that game, expect a little more national attention to comes its way. But you can say you knew that was due.
You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.
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