Shockers making noise with season winding down

Nick Beach

Fourteen seconds into the start of last Thursday’s game against Missouri State, Shaq Morris threw down an alley-oop pass from Fred VanVleet and the Shockers made an early statement on the Bears.

Wichita State would follow it up with nine more slam dunks as they rolled over the Bears in a 31-point victory. Their efforts are drawing a certain buzz of national attention, but Gregg Marshall’s group isn’t sure if they’re making enough noise.

The Shockers have defeated their last three opponents by an average margin of 31 points. Sunday they handed Indiana State their worst home loss since 1964.

It could be argued nothing has changed since the first half of conference play, but winning three straight games by 30-point margins speaks for itself.

The losses early in the season inspired the Shockers to play better, but the losses in conference play have sparked a new energy within the team.

“I think you could point a little bit to both [mental preparation and execution],” Marshall said. “Our mental approach has been steadfast and focused; angry, if you will.”

It took a gut-wrenching home-loss to Northern Iowa to inspire, but luckily the timing wasn’t too late.

“Losing those games wakes you up and puts your back up against the wall,” VanVleet said. “There’s no more room for error.”

WSU is playing their best basketball of the season, because the focus is on something real — a National Championship. Seniors Ron Baker, Fred VanVleet and Evan Wessel are determined to not let this team end on a sour note.

With senior day quickly approaching and Arch Madness waiting rightfully around the corner, the Shockers are peaking. They’re running the floor, they’re rebounding at a high level and they’re shooting at a relatively high percentage.

The All-American seniors, Baker and VanVleet, have been performing at a high level. Baker has been rebounding down the stretch, which is generating points in transition.

VanVleet is finishing things on the other end, where he averages more than six rebounds per game in the three-game stretch.

Baker and VanVleet’s performances are almost guaranteed. It’s the underclassmen who have been lifting this team to a new level.

Zach Brown is attacking the basket with intensity. In the last three games he has been the second-leading scorer for WSU, averaging more than 12 points per game. He is also shooting 64 percent from the field over that stretch.

Rashard Kelly posted a career-high 12 points against Missouri State a week ago.

Anton Grady and Shaq Morris have solidified the five-spot, where they have averaged more than 14 points and eight rebounds per game through a three-game stretch.

As a team they’re capitalizing on high-percentage shots.

“We’re turning down good looks for great ones,” Baker said.

The defense has remained stout. In Valley play, only five conference opponents have scored 60 or more points. None have scored 70. lists WSU as the nation’s most efficient defense.

“There’s only been two games where we’ve been close to 50 points scoring offensively,” Marshall said. “If we beat that mark, we’re going to win the good majority of our games.”

It’s a near-perfect recipe for success. Now the offense is peaking, playing close to their highest potential. If 99 points doesn’t speak much about offensive efficiency, I’m not sure I know what would.

It’s been a season of adversity, one in which WSU likely doesn’t find their way back into the AP Top 25, one in which they likely don’t fall better than a seven or eight-seed in the NCAA Tournament.

But if they continue to play with this integrity and blow out opponents by 30-plus points, they’ll strike fear in potential opponents, making them a tough draw for anyone in March.