Remember when Wichita State was challenging near-untouchable Kansas for basketball supremacy in the state and in many eyes having surpassed Kansas State for the No. 2 spot?
What’s happened to the Shockers?
After a wildly entertaining 8-year run where they won an average of 29 games — and KU seemingly wanted nothing to do with the Shockers — WSU has face-planted this year.
They did pull out a last-second win over SMU on Wednesday as I caught the end of the game, prevailing on a Samajae Haynes-Jones dipsy-do layup.
Wichita State is just 2-6 in the American Athletic Conference and 9-11 overall. It still has plenty of season to go, but it hasn’t lost 11 games since coach Gregg Marshall’s second year when they were 17-17.
The last 8 years have been golden for WSU. There was the Final Four run in 2013, then they won their first 35 games the following year before losing in the third round of the NCAAs. They dominated the Missouri Valley to the point of boredom and were the template for the so-called “mid majors.”
They were 14-4 in the AAC last year in their first try and 25-8 overall. They had a deep team loaded with seniors, such as Conner Frankamp, Shaquille Morris, Darral Willis, Rashard Kelly, Zach Brown and Rauno Nurger.
A couple of happenings after last season shook the program. I don’t think they really expected to lose standout guard Landry Shamet to the NBA, but it’s turned out to be a good choice for him as he’s flourished with the 76ers. Give NBA scouts credit, Shamet was thought to be a year away from the league and he would perhaps be a Top 10 pick if stayed. But he left and it looks like he’s going to be a solid pro.
Then last year’s sharpshooter Austin Reaves stunned Marshall by announcing he was transferring. He was going to be the hub of the team this year, along with Markis McDuffie. But he’s now an Oklahoma Sooner, sitting out this year for the transfer rule.
C.J. Keyser, who also would have been a starter, also didn’t return, nor did Kaelen Malone. It made a lot of people wonder if perhaps Marshall was difficult to play for.
That left Marshall with McDuffie and Haynes-Jones and a bunch of guys that you need a program to identify. They were hoping that West Virginia transfer Teddy Allen, who could have been their best player this year, would be eligible immediately after applying for a hardship transfer, but the NCAA ruled against him, which was a setback.
The couple of times I’ve watched the Shockers this year I’ve been, well, shocked. They are one of the poorest-shooting teams in the country in terms of percentage. They still play tremendously hard on the defensive end, but their lack of offense is too much to overcome.
WSU’s move to the American Athletic Conference was hailed at the time as the Shockers had outgrown The Valley. But now they’re in with more high-profile programs and Marshall appears to be having trouble recruiting the same type of talent as he has in the past.
Let’s hope it’s just a blip on the radar. It was fun having WSU in the conversation of Kansas basketball, but right now it’s just the third wheel.