Shockers challenging KU for state supremacy

By Steve Sell
November 14, 2017

The best college basketball team in the state of Kansas may not be who you think it is.

While the Kansas Jayhawks receive the majority of national acclaim, it may very well be the Wichita State Shockers that have the best team in the Sunflower State.

For anyone who saw the Shockers play Monday against a College of Charleston team that won 25 games last year and is expected to make the NCAA Tournament this year, you know what I mean. The Shockers took apart the Cougars 81-63, but the game in actuality was not remotely close. Wichita State led by 25 at the half and basically played out the string.

Wichita State wisely left the Missouri Valley Conference after last season as the Shockers had simply outgrown the conference. They have joined the American Athletic Conference, which will be a definite upgrade in competition. While their conference record may not be as glossy since winning on the road in the AAC will be difficult, the schedule will far more prepare them for the NCAA Tournament than the MVC would.

Coach Gregg Marshall has assembled perhaps his most explosive offensive team in his 11 years at WSU, not to mention the most experienced. And he doesn’t even have Markis McDuffie, who is out probably until January because of an injury. When he comes back, the Shockers are going to be 10 deep.

I like the Shockers’ versatility. They have a quality backcourt in veterans Connor Frankamp and Landry Shamet, with Frankamp the crafty sharp-shooting veteran, while Shamet is regarded by some as a future NBA player. Right now he’s not where he was at the end of last season due to an injury, but when that form he returns, it’s a terrific duo.

On the front line, the Shockers have a lockdown defender in Zach Brown, the power of Shaq Morris and the explosiveness of Darral Willis, Jr., who can get his shot about anytime he wants. 

Morris, though, is the key. He’s in his final year and finally appears to be over the stretches of wild inconsistency that have plagued him. He appears to have matured after spending periods of time in Marshall’s doghouse for a variety of transgressions.

Willis is a left-handed Cleanthony Early, the former Shocker who later played in the NBA. He’s a matchup nightmare and while he sometimes freelances, he’s a dynamic offensive performer.

Where McDuffie is going to fit in when he returns is a nice problem for Marshall. He’s perhaps the most gifted player on the team as he’s 6-8, long and versatile.

What makes this Shocker team a potential Final Four entrant is the bench. Somebody really good will be first in when McDuffie is back, while Rauno Nurger has improved light-years. At 6-10 and the ability to score with either hand, Nurger has developed into a force as he could start for a lot of teams. Add in the energetic Rashard Kelly, big-guard Austin Reeves and transfer Samajae Haynes-Jones and the Shockers have little falloff with their second unit.

The Shockers have climbed to No. 6 in the nation and are no longer that fuzzy, feel-good, mid-major team. This is a legitimate big-time team that is going to be heard from in March.