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The Wichita State Match-Up Blueprint

With an 83-69 win over Indiana State in the championship game of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, Wichita State moved their record to 34-0. Coming off a Final Four run last season, the Shockers have established themselves as one of the best programs in the country, regardless of conference affiliation. The first team to enter the NCAA Tournament undefeated in 23 years, they are a legitimate threat to cut down the nets in Dallas.

Like most mid-major teams, Wichita State’s strength is on the perimeter. College basketball is a guard’s game and Gregg Marshall’s team has one of the best backcourts in the country in Fred Van Vleet and Ron Baker, both only sophomores. Van Vleet and Baker are skilled, tough-minded and physical guards that contribute on both ends of the floor. They take care of the ball, shoot it from the perimeter, get into you on defense and control the tempo the game.

At 5’11 195, Van Vleet doesn’t have the size or athleticism to be a big-time NBA prospect. However, at the college level, he is as good of a point guard as there is. You can see that in his two per-game ratios - 5.3 assists on 1.9 turnovers and 1.9 steals on 1.9 personal fouls. Van Vleet keeps Wichita State in every game because he gets his teammates easy shots without turning the ball over and he turns over the opposition without picking up fouls that would send him to the bench.

Baker, a deceptively athletic 6’3 215 combo guard, has a chance to play at the next level. He has a very well-rounded game, with the ability to create his own shot and finish at the rim, shoot from the perimeter, make plays for others, rebound and defend multiple positions. Baker is averaging 13 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3 assists and 1.5 steals a game while shooting 45 percent from the field and 36 percent from three. He’s a former walk-on who could start for every team in the country.

The third member of their Big Three is Cleanthony Early, an NBA prospect in his own right at 6’8 220. Early, whom Marshall discovered playing D3 JUCO ball, is a prototype combo forward at the college level, giving Wichita State a lot of versatility in their line-ups. They can go big with Early as a 6’8 SF or play 4-out with him at PF. He can take bigger players to the perimeter, where he shoots 36 percent on this three-pointers with five attempts a game, or post up smaller ones in the lane.

As a perimeter-oriented team that likes to spread the floor and hoist 3’s, the Shockers are most effective with Early at the 4. Going small opens up minutes for their two other guards - Tekele Cotton (6’2 210) and Nick Wiggins (6’6 190), the older brother of the Kansas superstar. Cotton is another three-point shooter (38% on 3 attempts a game) while Wiggins gives them a defensive match-up for bigger wings. On the perimeter, Wichita State looks like a high-major team.

If the Shockers have a weakness, it’s upfront, where they get by with a more limited group of big men. They have two undersized bruisers at the center position - Kadeem Coleby (6’9 260) and Chadrack Lufile (6’9 260). While both understand their roles and make the right rotations on defense, neither has the size to match-up with NBA-caliber centers and both are very limited on the offensive end. The two combine to average a little over nine points a game.

Their most skilled big man is Darius Carter, another of Marshall’s junior college finds. At 6’7 235, Carter can bang inside and hit the mid-range jumper. He averages 8 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1 block a game on 53 percent shooting. Carter, like Coleby and Lufile, can get by at center against small-ball teams, but he doesn’t have much of a chance to defend a 6’10+ player who can create his own shot. The good news is there aren’t many of those players in college ball.

That’s the one knock on Wichita State’s season - their schedule. With Creighton gone to the new Big East, there isn’t another heavyweight program in the Missouri Valley. They went 18-0 in conference but none of those wins came against an NCAA Tournament team, certainly not one with NBA-caliber big men upfront. Nor were they able to schedule many tough opponents in non-conference play - their only win over a ranked team came against fellow mid-major St. Louis.

If there’s a formula for shocking the Shockers, you can look at the film of their game against Tennessee, whom they defeated 70-62 in December. The Volunteers, as the rare high-major program willing to play in Wichita, gave the Shockers their other “signature” win this season. While they came up short, they had the half-time lead and were in the game all the way through. If the game had been played in Knoxville, it wouldn’t have been stunning to see it go the other way.

Tennessee had two bruising 6’8 260 big men - Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon - who could attack Wichita State on the block. While neither had a huge game, they collapsed the Shockers defense and forced them to crowd the paint. If the Volunteers had shot better than 6-20 from three, they would have had a good chance of pulling the upset. Just as important, Early didn’t have the size to defend either Stokes or Maymon, forcing Marshall to play more two big-man line-ups.

In that respect, Wichita State is similar to the Miami Heat, in that they are far more dangerous when they play 4-out with only one conventional big men. If they have to play two limited big men who can’t shoot 3’s at the same time, their floor spacing is compromised and there is less room to attack the basket. The Shockers want to get the game going up-and-down, where they have the advantage in terms of taking care of the ball and knocking down transition 3’s.

The key to knocking off Wichita State is personnel. To give them their first loss, you would want an NBA-caliber 4 or 5 who can get his own shot, another big man who can punish Early and make him play on the perimeter, a PG who can handle Van Vleet’s ball pressure and long, athletic wings who can run with Baker, Wiggins and Cotton. Basically, a team like Michigan State, which has Adreian Payne, Branden Dawsen, Gary Harris and Keith Appling.

There’s not much of a chance the Shockers see a team like that in the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament and they may not see one in the second weekend, either. That’s what it will come down too for Wichita State - their draw and the possible match-ups in it. There’s been a lot of talk on TV about whether they “deserve” a No. 1 seed, but it doesn’t matter. The number next to a team isn’t nearly as important as how they match-up with the team across from them.

2012 Missouri Valley Power Rankings

Wichita State had a dominant season, losing just twice and have an FIC differential more than twice as great as a strong Creighton team. 

In order to determine our team rankings, we calculate the difference between a team's own FIC per game and their opponents' FIC for the entire conference season.

The FIC is a single statistical measurement that encompasses things such as scoring efficiency, rebounding, blocked shots, etc. Its purpose is to combine the box score into one statistic, both on a team level and for players.

1. Wichita State: 24.42  
2. Creighton: 9.89  
3. Missouri State: 2.15  
4. Evansville: 2.15  
5. Northern Iowa: 1.07  
6. Illinois State: -0.51  
7. Drake: -3.08  
8. Indiana State: -3.76  
9. Southern Illinois: -8.65  
10. Bradley: -23.69

Rivalry Week Musings And More Conference Shuffling

Florida/Kentucky

- Do we really need sideline interviews in the middle of the half in college basketball?

- John Calipari used the term Heebie Jeebies in an interview. I did not see that coming.

- The wingspan of those Kentucky players is scary. On so many possessions it seemed like Florida couldn’t even get a shot off, even from three-point range.

Kansas/Baylor

- Opening minute of the game, Baylor runs a beautiful alley-oop to Perry Jones. Seconds later, Kansas center Jeff Withey can’t handle a pass and misses a chance for an easy basket. It turns out this was not an omen of things to come.

- One 32-4 run later and you are reminded why you love Bill Self’s coaching ability. After two blowout losses, I think it is fair to say Baylor has no answer for Kansas’ disciplined play. This is definitely a case where if Bill Self switched teams, he could win the Big 12 with Baylor’s players too.

Georgetown/Syracuse 

- Syracuse is going to get more criticism for its poor defensive rebounding. The crowd was even booing them early in the game.

- I am debating watching this game with the sound off. If Bob Knight says “dribble into the lane against the zone” one more time, my head might explode. And in our Sesame Street moment of the night, tonight’s game is brought to you by the word “pass-fake”. Bob Knight will be repeating it throughout the night so your toddler learns what it means.

- I really loved Syracuse’s pressing defense in this game. Nine times out of ten, when you inbound the ball against pressure, you can get it back to the player who inbounded it without any trouble. But Syracuse kept jumping the inbounder and got at least one key steal and bucket. Well executed.

- All three times Bob Knight tried to praise Georgetown’s help defense, Syracuse drove to the basket and got points.

- I’ve watched a ton of basketball, but it is amazing how often you see something you haven’t seen before. This is the first time I’ve ever seen a player get called for goaltending on a free throw. Syracuse’s Fab Melo touched it on the cylinder and Georgetown was credited with one point.

- Another thing I’ve never seen before. Georgetown called timeout, during the timeout the check-in buzzer sounded, and then Hollis Thompson went to check in but was not allowed to enter the game. (And Georgetown didn’t have another timeout to call either.) This happened in the final minute with Georgetown down three. I’m sure we’ll hear some debate in the next few days about whether Georgetown screwed up or whether the hometown desk was too quick on the trigger, but this is one of those situations that doesn’t pass the marketability test. If Dwyane Wade was trying to check in to a Heat game at the end, and the guy at the desk buzzed too quickly, would the NBA really have a star player out in crunch time? Also, wouldn’t Syracuse fans have been more satisfied with the win if Hollis Thompson had missed the shot, instead of seeing him sitting on the sideline and having Georgetown fans say the Orange got lucky? This is just another case of college basketball being a sport that doesn’t take care of its stars.

- Kris Joseph started 2-for-9 from the field but had the courage to keep shooting and scored a career high 29, including the game-winning three-pointer in OT. Color me impressed.

North Carolina/Duke 

- My first prop bet for this game was how many times Dick Vitale would mention Anthony Davis of Kentucky. It only took about 10 minutes of TV time for the first mention.

- Jay Bilas, “It is undisputed that Tyler Zeller is the ACC player-of-the-year.” Dick Vitale, “I think Mike Scott of Virginia might be in the discussion.” Who expected Dick Vitale to be the one to stick up for the tempo-free star?

- The ticker shows Florida St. with a terrible loss tonight. Last year, FSU beat Duke and lost to an 11-20 Auburn team. This year FSU crushed North Carolina, beat Duke, and on Wednesday FSU lost to a 7-16 Boston College team. This is the plight of one-dimensional defensive teams. Bruce Weber of Illinois can sympathize after beating Ohio St. and Michigan St. and losing to Penn St.

- My second prop bet was whether Doc Rivers or Cody Zeller would be mentioned first. Vitale vaguely mentioned Zeller’s family, but Doc Rivers was the first full mention, and he was at the game so he got camera time.

- 55 seconds left in the first half, did Reggie Bullock push Austin Rivers to the ground or did he just fall over. How many licks does it take to get to the center of a tootsie-roll tootsie-pop? The world may never know.

- Six-second differential between the shot-clock and first half clock, Duke tries to take a shot with so few seconds left that North Carolina can’t get a shot on the other end. Wait, this is North Carolina. They score anyway.

- Two-one-one Seth Curry flares to the outside for a three-pointer. I have no problem with taking a three on a breakaway, but take the shot from the top of the key, not the 35 degree angle.

- Wow, I’m surprised they put a spot-shadow on the Duke travel that wasn’t called, usually they just let that stuff go.

- Tyler Zeller tips the ball in his own basket. That wasn’t anywhere near a goaltending, so I’m missing the logic of why that would be a three-pointer.  The referees eventually agree it was a two.

- And suddenly Austin Rivers hits the game-winning three for Duke as time expires. He’s still no Anthony Davis in my eyes, but after a season of question marks about who should have the ball in crunch time, I think Duke has an answer. Duke may still have legitimate concerns (like defense), but crunch time point guard is no longer one of them. For Duke fans, this comeback is one to savor.

- Wow, Doc Rivers and his family look really happy. 

Conference Changes

Besides Rivalry week the other big story this week is that Memphis is headed to the Big East in all sports. Barring additional moves, that should give the league 17 basketball teams on a permanent basis. Taking an average of each team’s offense and defense over the last 10 years and calculating a Pythagorean rating, here is the strength of those 17 programs:

Team

BB Joins

10 Year Pythag.

Louisville

2005

0.9246

UConn

1979

0.9229

Memphis

2013

0.9074

Georgetown

1979

0.8989

Villanova

1980

0.8908

Notre Dame

1995

0.8759

Marquette

2005

0.8743

Cincinnati

2005

0.8280

Providence

1979

0.7825

Seton Hall

1979

0.7786

St. John's

1979

0.6943

DePaul

2005

0.6767

Rutgers

1995

0.6415

Houston

2013

0.6192

USF

2005

0.6080

UCF

2013

0.5889

SMU

2013

0.4853

As noted by everyone, Memphis is the only addition in basketball that improves the league’s profile, while the three teams leaving have all been fantastic in the last decade:

Team

10 Year Pythag.

Pittsburgh

0.9267

Syracuse

0.9165

West Virginia

0.8804

One new question that has been raised is whether the MWC and CUSA should formally merge. While the merger may be advantageous in multiple sports, in basketball the MWC teams are slightly stronger. Here are the 10-year Pythagorean Ratings for the teams in the proposed MWC/CUSA merger:

Team

Previous Conf

10 Year Pythag.

UNLV

MWC

0.8191

New Mexico

MWC

0.7881

UAB

CUSA

0.7776

Nevada

WAC

0.7542

UTEP

CUSA

0.6928

Tulsa

CUSA

0.6793

Air Force

MWC

0.6538

Colorado St.

MWC

0.5822

Wyoming

MWC

0.5755

Southern Miss

CUSA

0.5725

Marshall

CUSA

0.5532

Fresno St.

WAC

0.5525

Rice

CUSA

0.4788

Tulane

CUSA

0.4775

East Carolina

CUSA

0.4184

If the goal was to build a better basketball league, Rice, Tulane, and East Carolina might not make the cut, but the truth is these teams haven’t been terrible. In most seasons East Carolina isn’t going to ruin the league’s RPI. But since San Diego St. and Hawaii are headed for the Big West, they might not be so lucky. Long Beach St. is having a great year this year, but the bottom of the Big West can be pretty terrible.

Team

Previous Conf

10 Year Pythag.

San Diego St.

MWC

0.7833

Pacific

BW

0.5943

Hawaii

WAC

0.5553

UC Santa Barbara

BW

0.5259

Cal St. Fullerton

BW

0.4398

Long Beach St.

BW

0.4233

UC Irvine

BW

0.4147

Cal St. Northridge

BW

0.3978

Cal Poly

BW

0.3432

UC Riverside

BW

0.2310

UC Davis

BW

0.2004

And the new look WAC is just a hodge-podge. Utah St. is down this year, but they have been dominant for a long time. This year Denver and Texas Arlington are pretty good, but that hasn’t been the case historically.

Team

Previous Conf

10 Year Pythag.

Utah St.

WAC

0.7875

New Mexico St.

WAC

0.5937

Boise St.

MWC

0.5856

Louisiana Tech

WAC

0.4412

Denver

SB

0.4266

Texas Arlington

Slnd

0.3684

Idaho

WAC

0.3612

Seattle

ind

0.3428

San Jose St.

WAC

0.3230

Texas SA

Slnd

0.3009

Texas St.

Slnd

0.2362

Since 2005-06, there have been 32 teams that have changed leagues (or have announced plans to change leagues). Additionally, 24 teams have gone from non-D1 status or independent status to participating in a league, and 3 teams have left D1. As a thought experiment, I wondered what leagues look stronger today than they did in 2005-06.

In the next table I take the 10-year average offense and defense for each team to give me an idea of the prestige of each program. Then I calculate the average league membership in 2005-06 and the average league membership based on announced future conference affiliation. Finally, I calculate a Pythagorean Rating for each conference. The next table shows how the power ratings of the top conferences have changed (or will change.)

Conf

2005-06 Teams

Future Teams

Old Conf Pythag.

New Conf Pythag.

ACC

12

14

0.8541

0.8662

B12

12

10

0.8422

0.8403

B10

11

12

0.8402

0.8348

SEC

12

14

0.8242

0.8281

BE

16

17

0.8427

0.7943

P10/12

10

12

0.7998

0.7860

MWC

9

7

0.7098

0.6852

MVC

10

10

0.6740

0.6740

A10

14

14

0.6456

0.6456

WCC

8

9

0.5521

0.5944

CUSA

12

8

0.6200

0.5867

Horz

9

10

0.5356

0.5342

CAA

12

12

0.4978

0.4978

MAC

12

12

0.4971

0.4971

BW

8

11

0.4180

0.4421

WAC

9

11

0.5581

0.4333

MAAC

10

10

0.4174

0.4174

SB

11

11

0.4258

0.3956 

As noted above, the big losers are the Big East which falls from the second strongest basketball profile to the the fifth strongest, and the WAC which falls from 11th to 16th nationally. The big winners are the ACC (which adds Syracuse and Pittsburgh), the WCC (which added BYU), and the Big West (which adds San Diego St. and Hawaii.)

I was a little surprised that the Big 12 doesn’t look worse, but in the last 10 years, West Virginia has been better than Missouri and Texas A&M. The Big 12 will have two very weak programs next year (Texas Tech and TCU), but the rest of the league should still be plenty strong.

Murray St., Surprise Leader Of The A-10, Tray Woodall And Assane Sene

John Calipari paved the way for a non-BCS conference to receive a No. 1 seed in the tournament while with Memphis, but here's why Murray State doesn't have the same juice.

Conference Rankings (End Of Jan. Edition)

As we have commonly seen in recent seasons, the Big East has been the deepest conference in the country.

 

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