Sunflower State teams in action tonight

By Steve Sell
December 22, 2015

Kansas’ “Big 3” is in basketball action tonight, with varying degrees of difficulty in terms of an opponent.

Wichita State is in desperate need of a victory after starting the season ranked as high as No. 9 in one poll. The Shockers hardly have a gimme tonight as a good 8-3 Nevada team, led by former NBA coach Eric Musselman, invades Koch Arena.

The Shockers have uncustomarily started the season 5-5, including an 0-3 record in the three-day Orlando tournament where they were missing All-America candidate Fred VanVleet. That tournament was a tipoff of the Shockers’ heavy reliance on their senior star as they are very ordinary without him.

It appeared they had righted the ship until losing on Saturday to Seton Hall in an unbecoming fashion. They are normally the team that doesn’t commit turnovers and fouls, instead playing a more cerebral game. This was one of the few occasions where they beat themselves.

Conner Frankamp has finally joined the Shockers after sitting out after his transfer from Kansas. After two non-descript performances, he finally showed signs on Saturday of making an impact with 13 points off the bench. He combines with VanVleet and Ron Baker for a nice three-guard rotation.

It’s inside where the Shockers are getting hurt by the good teams. They’ve been hampered by the absence of impact transfer Anton Grady, which leaves the wildly inconsistent and moody Shaq Morris to fend off the opponents’ bigs. In reality the Shockers are playing three guards and two forwards, though that won’t be a problem tonight as Nevada also goes small. At least Grady is now back on a limited basis to lend support.

There’s been some whispers that Wichita State needs to win the Valley or the postseason tournament to get in to the NCAA party, but it’s way too early to embrace that type of thinking. But it really needs to put a streak together to fatten up its resume.

Kansas State should have no trouble tonight at home against North Dakota. The Wildcats are 8-2, but most of that success has been accumulated against suspect competition. The win at Georgia was quality as was the near-upset of North Carolina (a game the Wildcats basically gave away). The jury is still out as far as I’m concerned though.

Last year’s Kansas Player of the Year Dean Wade, from St. John, has proven to be the real deal. Another freshman, Kamau Stokes, has opened some eyes, while returnees Justin Edwards and Wesley Iwandu have done just what Bruce Weber has asked. Stephen Hurt provides the most size at 6-11, but he’s more content shooting 3-pointers than trading blows in the paint.

I’m still curious to see how the Wildcats will react once they get into Big 12 play. A lot is going to depend on Stokes, who is asked to run the team despite his infant years.

Kansas has a potential fly in the ointment tonight at San Diego State, which two years ago went into Allen Field House and handed Bill Self one of his only nine losses in the venerable old barn. This is a late-nighter on the road and you can bet the environment will be hostile.

KU has been rolling since losing to No. 1 Michigan State. I like the efficiency of guards Frank Mason and DeVonte’ Graham and am keeping my fingers crossed this is the real Wayne Selden, not just a guy on a hot streak about to cool off. 

The barometer, of course, is Perry Ellis, who is constantly being prodded by Self to play with more passion and emotion. Ellis was really good on Saturday after Self’s most recent criticisms, but he should be at the point in his career that he doesn’t have to have his buttons pushed to bring it every night. This is his final rodeo and he needs to consistently put up about 14 and 7.

Self still has too many players for my taste, but this team will be able to survive an injury or two. There’s a plethora of posts and wings, and Mason or Graham can run the point. KU is shooting the ball at an astronomical clip from long range, something I always consider fool’s gold. I would be more comfortable if they could score more at the rim, as one of their other bigs other than Ellis needs to step up. Landen Lucas does a great job getting in position, but can never finish. If Hunter Mickelson could get Lucas’ chances, he’d be the guy.

KU should go a long way come March, but it has to avoid those pratfalls that has plagued the team for the most part since winning it all in 2008.