Wichita State's difficulties shooting could haunt the Shockers
when they face Louisville. (Mark J. Terrill/AP)
Gregg Marshall makes his first trip to the Final Four, and it's the school's first visit since 1965. The Shockers made (ignominious) history that year by allowing Princeton's Bill Bradley to drop a still-Final Four record 58 points on them. No Louisville starter will score that many on Saturday, but a Shockers win may be as large a surprise. They are a very rare double-digit underdog in a national semifinal.
How They Got Here
The Shockers worked over Pittsburgh in the Round of 64 before using a hailstorm of threes to dump 1-seed Gonzaga. They then jumped all over 13-seed La Salle in a surprising Sweet 16 matchup before running out to a huge lead and holding off Ohio State in the regional final. Wichita State is the first 9-seed to make the Final Four since 1979 and is looking to be the lowest-seeded champion ever.
The Shockers are built around defense and rebounding. They’re not an overly tall team, but they’re very disciplined, tough and physical. Wichita State finished in the nation’s top 20 in both offensive and defensive rebounding rate. That allows the Shockers to get second-chance points that support less-than-stellar shooting while limiting opportunities at their end. They get stops and then finish off the possession with the board.
They also are quite careful with the ball and have brought that frugality to an even higher level down the stretch of the season. They have been below a 17 percent turnover rate in three of their four NCAA wins. More possessions equals more shots equals more opportunities to hit the glass for second chances.
This isn’t a great shooting team, especially from the perimeter, but the return of freshman Ron Baker for the postseason has helped. He and Fred Van Vleet have been opportunistic with their jump shot makes.
Shooting really is their one identifiable flaw. They don’t have a pure knockdown shooter from the perimeter, and despite the relative effectiveness of Carl Hall and Cleanthony Early in the frontcourt, the Shockers don’t have a guy you can trust to get you a bucket in a big spot. It’s egalitarian, which is mostly good, but leaves them lacking on a night when the offense isn’t clicking.
Beyond that, the most noticeable issue is the Shockers tend to foul a decent amount for a good defensive team. Semifinal opponent Louisville likes to get to the glass and gets to the line a good amount. Watch to see how often the Cardinals trek to the foul line on Saturday as a barometer of how the Shockers’ defense is coping with Louisville’s speed and size.
How They Match Up
Wichita State did a solid job at VCU very early in the season of protecting the ball, and they’re going to need their recent turnover rate run to hold for another game if they want to have a chance to win. Louisville’s pressure is going to severely test Malcolm Armstead and the other primary ballhandlers. Then the Shockers will have to see if they can make shots and/or get to the glass against a Cardinals team that struggles to keep people off it. There’s a lot of toughness and experience on this roster despite the turnover from last season. They shouldn’t be rattled on this stage.
Can Wichita State’s relatively undersized frontcourt be productive inside against Gorgui Dieng and Co. after the Shockers break the pressure to set up in the half court? If they can, will Baker be the guy to bang down a handful of shots to keep the Cardinals honest?
Not great. This is a really solid Shockers team, but they draw easily the hottest team in the tournament in overall No. 1 seed Louisville. If Wichita State can hang on to the ball, they’ll have a chance to hurt the Cardinals and hang in the game. That’s a very big “if” though for any Louisville opponent.