As a new, exciting season of Wichita State University basketball starts, the Shockers storm into a different conference with a tough schedule of competition. After exiting the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC), WSU joins the American Athletic Conference (AAC) alongside the likes of UConn, Cincinnati, Houston, Tulane, SMU and University of Central Florida.
As the team continues to gain a reputation as a college basketball powerhouse, does Wichita State have what it takes to dominate some of the biggest names in Division I play? Many analysts say absolutely. In fact, the common consensus among college basketball experts is that the top two teams within the AAC come down to Cincinnati or Wichita State.
AAC vs. MVC
Wichita State’s move to the AAC ends a 72-year relationship with the Missouri Valley Conference, one welcomed by head coach Gregg Marshall. Marshall has been working to improve his team for the last 10 seasons, and has been outspoken about needing a tougher conference schedule. Wichita State’s admittance brings the total number of basketball schools in the AAC to 12.
The mutually-beneficial move not only brings a strong contender, Wichita State, to the conference, but could boost the Shockers’ chances of getting a higher seed in the NCAA Tournament come March. The change brings about speculation in the current Missouri Valley Conference about which school will step up as top dog now that the Shockers have moved on. Analysts say Missouri State now has the chance to shine.
Shocker fans know no matter where the team sits, Wichita State has the power to be a top Division I college basketball team. With six NCAA tournament appearances since 2012 and one Final Four showdown, the Shockers have more than made a name for themselves on the national stage.
The Shox will enter the 2017-18 season ranked No. 8 in the USA Today Coaches Poll (Preseason), but fans and pundits won’t be surprised to see that number climb.
John Gasaway with ESPN may say it best: “Wichita State certainly won’t start the season at No. 1, but don’t be surprised when the Shockers end it there.”
Players to Watch
Even though this season brings a new, blank slate for the Shockers, all five starters return from a team that finished 31-5 with the sixth-best offensive and second-best defense in the country.
Two of Wichita State’s star players landed on the injury list during the offseason, both suffering stress fractures to their feet. Sophomore point guard Landry Shamet is expected to return before the first game on Nov. 10 against UMKC, but junior forward Markis McDuffie will likely be out until December.
Shamet was switched to point guard midway through last season, becoming one of the tallest in the MVC (6’5”), averaging 11.4 points per game and shooting 43.9 percent from the arc. He was ranked as one of the top nine point guards in college basketball by CBS Sports. Shamet was also named to the 2018 Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year watch list.
McDuffie has helped catapult the team to success as the university’s active leader in career steals and has nearly 700 career points. The junior is averaging 11.5 points per game and has no trouble maintaining his top-scoring status.
With these two lead scorers nursing injuries and battling to get back on the court, Wichita State will have to rely on its other strong offensive and defensive players to lay the foundation for the season. Fortunately, the Shockers are good at playing both sides of the ball.
Seniors Shaq Morris, WSU’s active career leader in points and dunks, and Wichita native Conner Frankamp, a 3-point powerhouse, will have to step up and carry the team. Fortunately for the Shox, they have 13 of their top scorers returning this year, at least five of which who averaged more than 10 points per game.
Wichita State’s active leader in career starts and minutes, senior Zach Brown, will be a force to be reckoned with on defense as he stops the competition in its tracks. Named 2017 Shocker Radio Most Outstanding Defensive Player and to the 2017 MVC All-Defensive Team, Brown uses his size and stature to stop the ball.
Before the Shockers have the chance to prove themselves in their new conference, there are a few exhibition games ahead of the regular season.
First, Wichita State will take on Henderson State at 5 p.m. on Nov. 4 at Charles Koch Arena. The Reddies are coming off a 16-13 season in the Great American Conference and shouldn’t give the Shockers too much of a run for their money.
Then, to raise money for natural disaster efforts across the United States and Puerto Rico, the Shockers will be playing a charity exhibition game against hometown Division II team, Newman University. The game will be played at 7 p.m. on Nov. 6 at Charles Koch Arena.
All proceeds will be donated to the American Red Cross to benefit relief efforts. Visit Wichita will partner with the schools to help promote the games and maximize proceeds.
Are you ready for Wichita State basketball? Check out these regular season (both conference and non-conference) games and how you can get tickets.
Nov. 20-22 Maui Jim Maui Invitational
Dec. 2 – @ Baylor (Waco, TX)
Dec. 9 – @ Oklahoma State (Stillwater, OK)
Dec. 30 – @ UConn (Hartford, CT)
Jan. 11 - @ ECU (Greenville, N.C.)
Jan. 13 – @ Tulsa (Tulsa, OK)
Jan. 20 – @ Houston (Houston, TX)
Jan. 28 – Tulsa
Feb. 1 - @ Temple (Philadelphia, PA)
Feb. 6 - @ Memphis (Memphis, TN)
Feb. 18 - @ Cincinnati (Cincinnati, OH)
Feb. 24 - @ SMU (Dallas, TX)
Mar. 1 - @ UCF (Orlando, FL)
All 18 AAC games will be shown on ESPN or the CBS Sports Network.
Learn more about Wichita State University and its basketball program here.