Wichita State’s start to the 2016-17 basketball season is incredibly disrespectful to Ron . . . um, Ronnnnnn — what was his name again?
And to Fred Vanderfleet, was that his name?
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Seriously, wasn’t there supposed to be a grace period while Shocker fans missed Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet and wrung their hands over how Wichita State was going to go about replacing them? Not to mention Evan Wessel, Anton Grady and Bush Wamakota, other departed seniors from a team that just missed the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament last season.
I still have a feeling there will be a time when we all have that longing, again, for Ron and Fred.
But it hasn’t happened yet.
LSU became Blowout Victim No. 5 on Wednesday in the Bahamas, falling to Wichita State 82-47, in the Battle 4 Atlantis first round. The Tigers brought pea shooters to this skirmish and never stood a chance. Much the same way South Carolina State, Long Beach State, Tulsa and Maryland Eastern Shore never stood a chance.
Thanksgiving Day should be different. Especially if, as expected, the Shockers draw Louisville in the tournament semifinals.
I’ve gotta be honest here, this Wichita State team looks special. I know the competition hasn’t been great. Again, being honest, the competition has been awful.
But the Shockers continue to come at opponents in waves, with 10 interchangeable players with various talents and strengths. If Landry Shamet doesn’t get you, Conner Frankamp will. You might be able to keep Zach Brown down for a while, but how are you going to contend with Markis McDuffie?
The Shockers keep scoring all these points without players scoring a bunch of points. Shamet and McDuffie led the way Wednesday with 15, but Wichita State is a chip-in team. Everybody does his part and everybody ultimately gets rewarded.
Baker and VanVleet were the same way. They were fantastic players, but they were like these guys — chip-in types. They scored, but not overwhelmingly. They also defended, passed, led and kept their heads up.
This is what Gregg Marshall-coached players do. They have to, to survive.
Such are Marshall’s demands. And it’s why, season after season, the Shockers are able to replace players who seem irreplaceable. It’s why Wichita State can withstand the losses of two of the best players in the history of the basketball program and come back to wax five straight opponents to start a season.
This has been a fun team to watch — as long as you don’t mind watching one-sided mismatches in which the other team never stood a chance.
Say this about the Shockers, they don’t let teams back into games. There’s a killer instinct here, at least early, and it’s quite becoming.
There is much more to be learned about this team, though. How will they react to a close score? Who plays in crunch minutes? It’s nice to have 10 guys to choose from, but only five can be on the floor at once. And we’re still not sure who Marshall will go with when a game is on the line.
But these are nits in a world of pick-and-rolls. This is a time for excitement because the Shockers look better than most people could have imagined. They have been a destructive basketball machine, stymieing teams defensively while scoring at will.
It’s gotta be tough for Marshall to find anything to be angry about after games, although he might be able to chide some folks for the Shockers’ 9-of-20 performance at the free-throw line Wednesday.
Again, we’re back to that nit-picking thing.
So far, the Shockers have risen far above harsh criticism. There’s nothing they haven’t done well and nothing that seems beyond possibility.
I found myself checking the site for the 2017 Final Four during Wednesday’s blowout against LSU. Not necessarily because I think Wichita State can get to the Final Four. It was almost a subliminal act, really.
The story could change on Thanksgiving, when the Shockers finally take on somebody their own size. As good as these guys have looked, though, it would be a surprise if they can’t at least hang in a game against anyone.
Ron and Fred, you’re missed. But not like we thought you would be. Not yet, at least.