Scouting Report: Wichita State
Air Force will play a neutral-site game against Florida on Dec. 29, but other than that contest, the Falcons won't get another chance this season to make a major statement outside the Mountain West. Since this installment of the Missouri Valley-Mountain West Challenge is being staged inside Clune Arena, Air Force knows that this moment matters a great deal. Marquee home games against teams not called San Diego State or New Mexico are precious occasions. Dave Pilipovich will need to coax a five-star effort from his players against Wichita State.
WICHITA STATE AT-A-GLANCE
Gregg Marshall, the head coach of the Shockers since 2007, has steadily improved Wichita State each year he's been on the job. In his first season at WSU, Marshall took his lumps, enduring an 11-20 record, 4-14 in the Missouri Valley Conference. In year two, the Shockers began to find their footing, posting a 17-17 record, 8-10 in the Valley. In year three? 25-10, 12-6 in the Valley, and an NIT bid. Year four? 29-8, 14-4 in the Valley, and a run to the NIT championship in New York. Last year, a team that stood on the precipice of the NCAA tournament was finally able to break through. Moreover, Wichita State and Marshall didn't just slide into the outer reaches of the tournament field with a No. 11 or 12 seed. The Shockers blitzed the competition, going 16-2 in the Valley while notching a premium non-conference win against UNLV for good measure. Wichita State earned a No. 5 seed in the Big Dance, and while Virginia Commonwealth upset the Shockers in the round of 64, the foundation had still been established for future growth and better March Madness performances.
Wichita State claimed a great deal of momentum when last season ended, and the start of the new season has affirmed the notion that the Shockers are very healthy as a program, a patient with an excellent long-term prognosis. Marshall has… well… marshaled his resources quite effectively. Wichita State is 7-0 as it arrives in Colorado Springs. The record is gleaming on its own merits, but it is particularly impressive because it includes a revenge win over Virginia Commonwealth plus a neutral-court win over Iowa, a team thought to be a bubble team for the NCAA tournament this season. If Wichita State survives Air Force, it will face only one more profound test in non-conference play, at Tennessee on Dec. 13. This is WSU's next-to-last non-conference road game of the season, so Marshall is going to tell his players just how much this game means. Air Force will be facing a supremely motivated opponent, which only adds to the value – and drama – of this clash at Clune.
Forward – Carl Hall – Senior, 6-8, 238 2012-13 STATISTICS: 13.6 points per game, 7.9 rebounds per game, 1.9 blocked shots per game
Take note: Wichita State's body of work grows in quality when you consider the fact that Marshall is working with a brand-new starting five this season. Not one starter from last year's NCAA tournament team is back on the roster this season. Marshall's new lineup is a substantially reassembled one. The Shockers have made great adjustments and are communicating well at both ends of the court. Air Force has to realize that Wichita State is resourceful and unlikely to beat itself with unforced errors.
Hall typifies what Wichita State brings to the table. He's the leading rebounder on the team, and part of his scoring production flows from his ability to get loose balls near the rim. This season's version of Wichita State isn't as potent as last season's edition, so the Shockers have to rely on elbow grease to propel their offense. WSU's rebounding prowess also limits opponents' opportunities, which is another necessary task for any team that knows it won't be able to outgun its foes on a regular basis.
Forward – Cleanthony Early – Junior, 6-8, 215; 2012-13: 13.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg
Early is in many ways the same player as Hall, with one key difference: He is willing to step out to the perimeter and shoot the three. He's not a lethal shooter, but he can hit and make the long ball at times. Air Force needs to pay attention to him… but not so much attention that the shape of the Falcons' defense is distorted.
Guard – Malcolm Armstead – Senior, 6-0, 205; 2012-13: 7.1 ppg, 3 rpg, 3.6 assists per game
Armstead helps to illustrate why Wichita State has been successful this season. He rebounds more effectively than any other starting guard on the Shockers' roster. He's the leading assist man on the team, and he doesn't take bad shots. He is not a high-volume shooter; he works within Marshall's system and does not make imprudent plays at either end of the floor. Air Force has to subdue Armstead; to repeat a theme, it cannot expect him and WSU's other players to make mistakes in meaningful moments.
Guard – Evan Wessel – Sophomore, 6-5, 201; 2012-13: 6.3 ppg, 1.7 rpg
Wessel has the highest assist-to-turnover ratio (2.2-1) of any Shocker, and his length makes him very tough at the defensive end of the floor. Air Force's biggest problem with Wessel will be an offense-based problem. Finding ways to screen him and minimize his effect on the Falcons' defense will be a priority for Pilipovich and the rest of the AFA staff.
Guard – Ron Baker – Freshman, 6-3, 218; 2012-13: 7.3 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 2 apg
Baker is the high-volume shooter in the Shockers' backcourt. He's taken 36 threes this season, 13 more than any other WSU teammate. Air Force has to make sure that Baker's three-point attempts are contested and unwise. A free shooting hand cannot be allowed to a player who – as you can see – contributes in multiple ways to Wichita State. Every WSU player knows how to contribute on the glass and as a distributor of the ball.
Marshall goes with what is largely a nine-man rotation. The Shockers use four primary reserves, three of them guards: Demetric Williams, Tekele Cotton, and Fred Van Vleet. Williams is a pickpocket, snaring 1.6 steals per game. Cotton gets three boards per game and Van Vleet chips in with 2.4 boards per contest. Forward Chadrack Luflie receives fewer minutes than the other eight players in the rotation. Center Ehimen Orukpe would actually be the ninth player in WSU's rotation, but he is injured, meaning that Luflie is likely to get a longer look in this game against Air Force.
Keys to the Game
1) Rebound. It's a simple and obvious key, but a necessary one. Wichita State throws everyone at the glass all the time. If Air Force wants to win, it has to deliver its best rebounding performance of the young season. The Falcons got pushed around by Colorado, and they have to push back against Wichita State.
2) Force Wichita State to hit long twos and mid-range jumpers in general. Wichita State likes to get into the paint and create high-percentage looks at the basket. If Air Force can rotate effectively and display good footwork in getting to spots, it can produce the defensive performance needed to win this contest.
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