3 keys for WSU to tame Memphis on Thursday

Wichita+State%27s+Grant+Sherfield+moves+past+Ole+Miss+defenders+for+a+basket+during+the+game+on+Saturday+inside+Charles+Koch+Arena.

Morgan Anderson

Wichita State's Grant Sherfield moves past Ole Miss defenders for a basket during the game on Saturday inside Charles Koch Arena.

Thursday night’s game against Memphis might be the most anticipated and important game of the Shockers’ season to date. With WSU hoping to improve on their resume prior to Selection Sunday, a win against the AAC preseason favorite could go a long way for WSU.

This is a crucial game for both sides though, as neither team has picked up a win against a current Top-25 team in the AP poll so far. This will be a Quadrant I contest for both sides, and the winner will move to 3-1 in such games this season.

All of the metrics point to a Wichita State win, with KenPom giving the Shockers a 64% shot at victory inside Charles Koch Arena and ESPN’s Basketball Power Index giving WSU a 69% chance.

If the Shockers want to pick up a prime-time win in a packed Charles Koch Arena, here are three keys to doing so:

 

Limit Memphis’ pace

One element that make Memphis so hard to prepare for is their pace of play. Penny Hardaway has brought an NBA style to the Tigers, which only works because of the caliber of athletes Hardaway has been able to recruit.

The Tigers come into play with the No. 9 adjusted tempo and the No. 7 average possession length, according to KenPom. Both of these marks are the highest that WSU has faced so far this season, with Texas Southern being the closest at No. 15 in terms of tempo.

“We’ll have to execute against their sets and the things they do to get an advantage,” Marshall said Tuesday during his weekly press conference. “[They have] a lot of tremendously talented young players. They play hard and really fast.”

One of the ways that WSU can make the Tigers uncomfortable is limiting their transition opportunities. If the Shockers are able to minimize their turnovers and focus on getting back on the fast break, then they’ll improve their odds of coming up with the big victory.

Earlier this season, the Shockers limited Texas Southern to 10 fast-break points while only turning the ball over eight times. If WSU can downplay Memphis’s tempo and turn the tables on the Tigers, then they should be n good shape.

 

Dominate the Boards

In the Shockers’ lone loss this season, they were unable to control the glass as they dropped the championship game of the Cancun Challenge to West Virginia early on in non-conference play. Since then, WSU has stepped up its rebounding, thanks especially to the efforts of the main posts – Morris Udeze and Jaime Echenique.

“They’ll be challenged,” Marshall said. “Everyone will be challenged. If you’re on the floor, you have [to guard] a guy who can play the game. You’ve got to be in a stance and be alert to our game plan. We’ve been doing that. I’m pleased with our defensive effort.”

WSU will once again be tested on the boards against Memphis, which enters the contest with the 29th best offensive rebounding percentage at 34.7%, according to KenPom. Despite losing possibly the best center in the country (James Wiseman), the Tigers still have one of the better rebounders in the country on both the offensive and defensive glass.

This talented rebounder is freshman big man, Precious Achiuwa. Achuiwa is the lone five-star recruit left after Wiseman’s departure, and he has flourished in his new role as the Tigers’ center. So far this season, Achuiwa ranks No. 49 in defensive rebounding percentage at a rate of 25.7%. He is also putting up solid numbers on the offensive glass, where his rebounding rate is 11.3% (No. 148 in the country).

If the Shockers can limit Achuiwa’s effectiveness on the boards, that will be a big factor in pulling off the statement victory. The 6-9 freshman has been tremendous on the glass this season, and it will be no small task to limit his damage on the boards. Against Georgia on Saturday, the big man racked up 15 rebound.

 

Continued depth scoring

Depth has been a key element of WSU’s offensive success this season. Erik Stevenson has emerged as a go-to scorer, but you never really know who will end up carrying the load offensively.

In their last game against Georgia, Memphis was able to shut down the Bulldogs primary scorer, Anthony Edwards. Edwards is a projected lottery pick in this summer’s NBA Draft, but he was held to 13 points on 4-17 shooting against the Tigers. His season average is 18.7 points per game.

Freshman Lester Quinones drew the defensive matchup against Edwards and did a fantastic job of keeping the prized recruit in check. Quinones will likely draw the matchup with Stevenson Thursday night, so it may be up to the WSU offense’ supporting cast to come up big if Quinones can contain the sophomore guard.

WSU has five players averaging nine or more points per game, with Trey Wade being the only starter under that mark. The Shocker bench is one of the best in the AAC, and they’ll have a chance to impact this game in a big way.