Shockers capitalize on veterans’ experience heading into March Madness


Matt Crow

Wichita State guard Landry Shamet looks on during the Shockers victory over Temple in the American Conference Tournament quarter-finals.

Wichita State sees their seventh-straight NCAA Tournament on Friday in San Diego. After years of feeling like they were cheated on seeding, Head Coach Gregg Marshall was pleased with receiving the four seed.

“I thought we were going to be a five or a four. Right on the border of a five and four, teetering towards a five,” Marshall said. “We had a lot of wins in those first two quadrants, because we had the opportunity to play good teams.”

Wichita State has a leg up on their Big Dance opponents—nine of the 10 players who saw playing time in March Madness games last season have returned.

The experienced Shocker squad is lead by seniors Shaquille Morris and Zach Brown who played in eight games with five starts, and Rashard Kelly who has also played in eight.

Those three seniors have helped the Shockers to a 5-3 record over the past three tournaments.

Kelly, who has never missed a game as a Shocker, emphasized the importance of working through the mental blocks March can bring.

“It’s a grind. Around this time of March, it’s more mental than physical to prepare for the games. You just have to understand that you are capable of it and you are here for a reason,” Kelly said. “Just keep pushing…Everything’s a grind.”

Sophomore guard Landry Shamet, who averaged 16.5 points in 35.0 minutes over the two 2017 games, thinks the team should take the same mental approach, but should be locked in now more than ever.

“With preparation, it’s got to remain the same. No different than it has been the last couple games…all season really,” Shamet said. “Just be focused. Try to continue to do what I’m doing and continue doing what we’re doing as far as the mental aspect goes.”

The Shockers will rely on their veterans’ experience when taking on Marshall Thundering Herd, a team who has not been to the Big Dance since 1987.

Marshall finished fourth in the Conference USA regular-season after going 24-10. Despite their fourth place regular-season finish, they were able to punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament with a 13 seed after winning the conference tournament in Frisco.

Marshall has a group of three juniors that are the main contributors for the Thundering Herd: John Elmore, C.J. Burks, and Ajdin Penava. They account for almost 68 percent of the team’s points this season.

Elmore ranks in national leaderboards for four different categories: scoring (8th, 22.8), assists (7th, 6.9), minutes (3rd, 38.2) and free throws made (4th, 217). Along with that he has recorded two triple-doubles this season and finished as a first team All-Conference USA selection.

Coach Marshall says that out of all the opponents he has seen this season, Elmore reminds him the most of Houston’s Rob Gray.

“[Elmore]’s probably a little better shooter than Gray but doesn’t drive it quite like Gray does,” Marshall said. “Similar size and that type of player.”

Although Elmore is the general of Marshall’s offense, the other juniors are large contributors. Burks averages 20.5 points per game and ranks 36th nationally, and Penava averages 15.5 points, 8.6 rebounds, and leads the nation in blocks per game (4.06).

Coach Marshall said the Thundering Herd’s style of play will keep the Shockers on their toes. Marshall doesn’t quite remind him of any conference teams, but two teams Wichita State has faced in their non-conference schedule.

“I would say that the teams they remind us the most of that we’ve played this year are Savannah State and South Dakota State,” Marshall said. “Both of those teams played some fast, high octane offense: spreading the floor, driving it, and shooting the three.”

“They were entertaining games, so we’ll have to be on our toes.”

Marshall is not an unfamiliar program to the Wichita State coaching staff. Coach Marshall spent two years as a Marshall University assistant under Greg White from 1996-98.

Assistant Coach Donnie Jones received his master’s degree from Marshall, and served as an assistant from 1990-96 and later on as head coach for the 2007-10 seasons.

“There’s a lot of really nice people from there. I’m glad that they’re in. I hate that we have to play them in the first round,” Marshall said. “It’s really incredible, and I know the city is so excited and behind their team.”

Tipoff is at 12:30 CT and will be broadcasted on TNT. The winner advances to the Second Round played on Sunday.