March 10, 2014 - Dylan Burkhardt
Scouting the Shockers: How Wichita State went 34-0
Wichita State wrapped up the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament on Sunday afternoon with a 83-69 win over Indiana State and completed a perfect 34-0 regular season. The Shockers are all but assured to be a No. 1 seed when the brackets are revealed on Sunday, but what do we really know about Wichita State?
The Shockers have only played three games against teams ranked in Ken Pomeroy’s top 75 and have played 16 against teams ranked 150th or worse. The casual fan probably remembers that Wichita State made the Final Four last season, but probably hasn’t watched Gregg Marshall’s team on television much this year.
Where Wichita State Shoots
Wichita State is very balanced. Five rotation players use at least 20% of Wichita’s possessions when they are on the floor and that doesn’t include the Missouri Valley player of the year, Fred VanVleet.
“I think they’re unselfish,” head coach Gregg Marshall said after a Missouri Valley Conference tournament victory. “I don’t tell good players to pass on good shots. We share the basketball. When it’s your turn to shoot and you’re open, I want you to shoot it. In fact, I get upset with them when they don’t.”
Note: Click all charts to enlarge.
The Shockers have a lot of offensive options, with four players averaging double figures. Fred VanVleet was named Missouri Valley Player of the Year and averages 12.1 points and five assists per game. Cleanthony Early leads the Shockers in scoring and rebounding and is a Wooden Award finalist, he averages 15.8 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. But Ron Baker (13.1 ppg) and Tekele Cotton (10.8 ppg) round out an incredibly balanced Wichita rotation. Even Wichita’s top two big men combine to average 13.9 points and 9.6 rebounds in 34.9 minutes per game
Wichita is able to achieve balance because everyone has their own favorite spots on the floor. VanVleet loves threes from the right wing, Early can play in the post or float anywhere on the perimeter, Baker is great in the mid-range, Cotton is lights out on the left side of the floor and Carter and Lufile do the dirty work in the post.
Almost every Wichita State possession includes at least one high-ball screen or a post up on the block. VanVleet and Baker are both tremendous ball screen players, both to score and distribute, while Carter, Lufile and Cleanthony Early are all legitimate threats on the low block.
Fred VanVleet: The Catalyst
Fred VanVleet only uses 19.6% of Wichita State’s offensive possessions, but he’s the catalyst of the Shocker attack. The Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year is lethally efficient both in scoring for himself or distributing to others.
VanVleet is one of the most complete point guards in the country and he does a bit of everything: he can score when required, he distributes the ball, gets to the free throw line and doesn’t turn it over.
VanVleet is one of the better ball screen players in the country and he’s very capable of scoring or passing after receiving a ball screen. His shot chart shows that he loves getting a ball screen on the left wing and shooting going to his right. Van Vleet shoots an impressive 47% from three-point range in the middle of floor and on the right wing.
His passing numbers also show demonstrate his love for the left wing ball screen. VanVleet gets most of his assists to rolling big men at the basket, pick and pop attempts from the left wing, or drive-and-kicks to the corners.
Cleanthony Early: Inside-Outside
Early leads the Shockers in scoring (15.8 points per game) and rebounding (5.9 rebounds per game) and is extremely versatile for a 6-foot-8 forward. Early is a great finisher at the rim, but he’s also a major perimeter threat.
Early’s mid-range game isn’t overly impressive, but he does have a back to the basket game. His favorite shots are pick-and-pop threes, left corner threes and shots at the rim. He finishes a very impressive 71% of his attempts near the basket and he also has a penchant for finishing through contact.
“We don’t get any foul calls in practice,” Early said. “It’s like I’m trying to make the basket regardless because I feel like I might not get the foul call. Sometimes you get lucky and you get the foul call and the ball goes in the basket, and we’re just happy for that.”
Ron Baker: Ball Screen Shooter
Baker is a volume shooting off-guard that shoots a ton of wing three-point shots, but isn’t all that efficient. He’s still a great ball screen scorer – very capable in the mid-range (23-of-41, 56%) and at the basket. His three-point hot spots are clearly the top of the key and the corners, but he attempts a ton of threes on the right wing.
Tekele Cotton: ‘Three and d’
Tekele Cotton is an undersized, but overly athletic ‘three and D’ player for the Shockers. At 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, Cotton is widely regarded as the Shockers’ top defender.
Cotton is a pretty good, but not great, finisher at the rim for his size, but he can do things like this.
Cotton has great mid-range game, both with the jump-shot and the floater in the lane, but his favorite shot is clearly any three from the left side of the floor. Cotton has worked hard to shed the knock as a below average jumpshooter and the improvement paying dividends for the Shockers.
“Over the years that I’ve been here, when people like sag off of me, it’s not a good feeling to have when people are sagging off of you,” Cotton explained after the Missouri Valley Championship. “So you’ve got to work on your shot and be comfortable shooting your shot.”
As a sophomore, just 30% of Cotton’s field goal attempts were threes. This year, 41% of his field goal attempts are threes. After going 10-of-15 from 3-point range in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, I don’t think anyone will be playing off of Cotton in the NCAA tournament. His explosion in St. Louis was nothing new either, he’s been locked in since February. Cotton is shooting 49% (28-of-57) on threes since the calendar moved into February.
Darius Carter and Chadrack Lufile – Post up threats
While Wichita State embraces one of the hottest trends in the college game – the high ball screen – it also sticks to an old staple that isn’t nearly as common place as it once was: the post up game. The Shockers have a number of low post threats with legitimate talent. Early is Wichita State’s most effective scorer with his back to the basket, but Darius Carter and Chadrack Lufile see the most attempts.
Carter and Lufile are both legitimate low post scoring options for the Shockers that do a good job of finishing around the basket. Both players draw a lot of fouls, but Carter has a bit more range away from the hoop. Lufile is the top offensive rebounder in the MVC and both players are ranked 10th or better in offensive and defensive rebounding in the conference.
Nick Wiggins: The other Wiggins
Nick Wiggins is the first guard off the bench for the Shockers, but the 6-foot-6 wing is a major step-down in offensive efficiency from Wichita’s starters. Wiggins is Andrew Wiggins’ older brother, a point that will inevitably be hammered home by every play-by-play announcer this March. He’s mainly a three-point shooter for the Shockers. Over half of Wiggins’ field goal attempts are threes and he’s a below-average shooter from every spot on the floor other than the left corner and at the rim, where he attempts just 28% of his field goals.
Wichita State is extremely balanced offensively that means opposing defenses can’t focus on stopping just one player.
Concentrate your ball screen defense on Van Vleet and Baker can attack. Put your best interior defender on Early and Carter or Lufile can go to work on the other block while Early stretches him to the perimeter. Play off Tekele Cotton? He’s shooting the ball better than he has in his entire career.
There are are simply too many answers, too many shooters and too much versatility to shut down Wichita State completely.
It’s undeniable that the Shockers have bolstered their statistics against weaker competition, but undefeated is undefeated. Last year’s Wichita State team rode a great defense to the Final Four. This year’s group improved on that defense, but has made an even bigger leap offensively.
Much of the debate regarding Wichita State’s success has revolved around how the Shockers would perform in a major conference, but that argument is missing the point. The Shockers wouldn’t have gone undefeated in the Big 12, Big Ten or ACC, but they don’t have to. Wichita State just needs to win six games in March.