The college basketball off-season is long and largely lacking in major news developments. Programs are still finalizing their 2017 recruiting classes and sorting out which of their players will return for another season or jump to the professional ranks. We’ve got a long way to go until Midnight Madness. To help pass the time, SI.com is asking and answering three key questions about each of the teams in our Way-Too-Early Top 25. Here’s No. 9, Wichita State
(1) What will a new conference bring for the Shockers?
Wichita State’s move from the Missouri Valley to the American Athletic Conference could provide us with enough material for all three of these questions, but for the sake of focusing on some other elements of the team, let’s cram it all into one broad inquiry. The upshot is that this was a very, very good move for Gregg Marshall and company, who should no longer be penalized come March for their (lack of) strength of schedule. In recent years, the Shockers have more than once been criminally under-seeded in the NCAA tournament, but that should change in 2018, and I think the biggest difference the conference jump will make is this: We will know much more about how good Wichita State is before March.
As for what the Shockers will be next year, the answer is a very good team. This season’s squad came about as close as possible to the Sweet 16 without making it, losing by three to No. 2 seeded Kentucky, and that group won’t lose any major pieces this off-season. So though a new conference will certainly bring a greater strength of schedule, it should still see the Shockers at the top of the league standings.
(2) What will Daishon Smith’s departure mean for the team?
Smith, a guard who would have been a senior for the Shockers in 2017-18, announced in April that he intended to transfer after spending one season coming largely off the bench at Wichita State. As a good column in The Wichita Eaglepoints out, this transfer is one of the few instances of NCAA transfer rules working against the Shockers, who have gained significant talent from players who elected to leave bigger programs in favor of Wichita State. Still, the move won’t be disastrous. Smith lost a starting role at point guard to Landry Shamet, who was probably the best freshman at his position last year and will be back in the fall. However, the transfer does thin out the team’s backcourt, so developing depth at his position will be key.
(3) How will the assistant-coaching shakeup impact next season?
Probably not much. It is noteworthy that Wichita State lost its two longest-tenured assistants, Chris Jans and Greg Heiar, within the span of a week, but that’s to be expected from a program as successful as the Shockers, especially one with a head coach who’s neither old nor expressing much interest in looking elsewhere. (Jans spent nine seasons at Wichita State from 2007-17, with one year, 2014-15, at Bowling Green. Heiar spent seven seasons with the program.) Marshall is the real backbone of the program, and the team has already brought in Donnie Jones to fill the void. Jones was an assistant for 11 seasons at Florida, where he won consecutive national titles, and most recently he was the head man at UCF from 2010-16. Jones can recruit in the south, and he also comes in with a knowledge of the Shockers’ new conference after coaching in the AAC for its first three seasons.