‘We’re not really freshmen anymore’: Gregg Marshall is counting on freshmen experience for AAC tournament push

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‘We’re not really freshmen anymore’: Gregg Marshall is counting on freshmen experience for AAC tournament push

Wichita State guard Dexter Dennis dunks in the final seconds of the second half of the game against Temple on March 15, 2019 at the FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee. (Photo by Joseph Barringhaus/The Sunflower).

Wichita State guard Dexter Dennis dunks in the final seconds of the second half of the game against Temple on March 15, 2019 at the FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee. (Photo by Joseph Barringhaus/The Sunflower).

Joseph Barringhaus

Wichita State guard Dexter Dennis dunks in the final seconds of the second half of the game against Temple on March 15, 2019 at the FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee. (Photo by Joseph Barringhaus/The Sunflower).

Joseph Barringhaus

Joseph Barringhaus

Wichita State guard Dexter Dennis dunks in the final seconds of the second half of the game against Temple on March 15, 2019 at the FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee. (Photo by Joseph Barringhaus/The Sunflower).

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Asbjørn Midtgaard knows what it’s like sitting on the bench.

As a freshman on a senior-laden Wichita State team, Midtgaard rarely saw playing time last year. He wasn’t mad because that’s the expectation when a player first joins the Shockers. In Gregg Marshall’s Wichita State system, freshmen rarely touch the court.

This year, however, is an anomaly for the Shockers. In the quarterfinals of the American Athletic Conference tournament, Wichita State put four freshmen on the floor with senior Markis McDuffie. For a brief stint, Marshall swapped out McDuffie for redshirt freshman Rod Brown to put five freshmen on the floor. That’s atypical for a setting like the quarterfinals of the AAC tournament. Yet, the Shockers hung with three-seed Temple and wiped the Owls from the tournament.

“We trust them,” Midtgaard, a sophomore, said. “We know if we put all the freshmen on the court, they will produce.”

Joseph Barringhaus
Wichita State guard Jamarius Burton takes a shot during the first half of the game against Temple on March 15, 2019 at the FedExForum. (Photo by Joseph Barringhaus/The Sunflower).

Wichita State is one of the youngest and most inexperienced teams in the country. Midtgaard, who played less than 200 minutes last season, entered the year the third-most experienced player on the team. Wichita State has seven freshmen — two who start and five who are frequently in the rotation.

“This is a level of basketball many of them have never played,” Marshall said. 

Players have undergone a transformation. After debuting a 1-6 start to conference play, Wichita State has turned the corner and posted 11 wins in its last 13 games.

Joseph Barringhaus
Wichita State freshman Isaiah Poor Bear-Chandler goes up for a reverse layup during the game against Temple on March 15, 2019 at the FedExForum. He was fouled on the play.(Photo by Joseph Barringhaus/The Sunflower).

“These guys have played so many minutes now, it’s hard to say that they’re freshmen,” Marshall said. “Many of them have played 500 or 600 minutes of college basketball, and they’re getting better. They’re not even close to hitting their ceilings yet.”

“We’re not really freshmen anymore,” freshman Dexter Dennis said. “Over the season, we’ve grown. We’ve grown and matured, we’re a whole different team now.”

Dennis had 19 points and 12 rebounds for the Shockers in Friday’s quarterfinal.

Joseph Barringhaus
Wichita State guard Erik Stevenson makes a pass during the second half of the game against Temple on March 15, 2019 at the FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee. (Photo by Joseph Barringhaus/The Sunflower).

“It can be anyone of us,” freshman Erik Stevenson said of Dennis’ performance. “Dexter’s been playing well lately and he’s making shots. If I’m not open, I’m looking for him. Isaiah (Poor Bear-Chander) comes off the bench and brings energy to our bigs and makes plays.

“We’re getting minutes, we’re getting experience to try and make a run in March,” Stevenson said.

Joseph Barringhaus
Wichita State forward Rod Brown takes a shot during the first half of the game against Temple on March 15, 2019 at the FedExForum. (Photo by Joseph Barringhaus/The Sunflower).