Look who we have here, the Wichita State Wheat Shockers. When last we saw this noble band of merry men, they put up a yeoman's fight before falling in last year's NCAA tournament. VCU defeated WSU 62-59 when a Garrett Stutz prayer went unanswered.
It matters, but it kind of doesn't matter. VCU holds a certain psychological edge on Wichita State, but the names of these Shockers are all different. Well, almost all different. Gone are Stutz, Ragland, Murry, and
Kyles. I'm not afraid to admit I was afraid of that band. Havoc took care of that.
Those guys are mostly gone, and the new names this
year--Armstead, Baker, Wessel, and Early--are in for a treat. They have no idea what's in front of them, for no tape nor explanation can prepare you for your first taste of havoc.
Speaking of taste, irony is heavy on my taste buds. The most notable name from
last year's team: Carl Hall.
get this Carl Hall business out of the way right now. It's in the
way. Most of you know this, but some may not. The Wichita State forward
originally committed to VCU, only to change his mind at the last minute
join Gregg Marshall's bunch. It was a bitter pill, so there's a special level of
venom for the bruising 6-8, 240-pound Hall. Fine.
Since that choice, Hall
watched helplessly two seasons ago as Joey Rodriguez hit two free
throws to beat Wichita State in the Roundhouse on Bracketbusters
weekend. The VCU win probably put the Rams in the NCAA tournament, and
certainly put the Shockers out of it. Hall enjoyed an NIT title around
the same time we were enjoying Houston. You remember why we were there
of course last year Hall was a beast in the NCAA tournament, gave VCU all kinds of fits. In the end, though, his
fell short and VCU played Indiana (probably near the time the
Wichita State bus pulled into the parking lot at home). To me, Hall is a tremendous college basketball player. Period.
becoming a "big time program," or however you want to frame the path
we're traveling, isn't always Snickers bars and Stella Artois. There are
aspects that stink, including losing recruits who can post a
double-double every night. It will happen again. Let the Hall stuff go. Such is life, and
remember--this is about us, not them. We do what we do, and that
includes going 43-5 in The Stu under Shaka Smart. We're fine without Hall, Ben Eblen, or any other player that unwisely chose to play elsewhere.
Their, uh, loss--a word Hall has used twice in the two games his Wichita State team played VCU--is a big reminder that what we have at VCU is special, but it doesn't guarantee us anything.
Don't get me wrong--you can save a special level of heckling for Hall
and Marshall. Think of them as Hassell and Taylor. But mainly make
their lives heck because they are on the visitors bench. Every one of
them deserves it.
The scouting report rightfully starts with Hall, who posted a 17/13 double-double in Wichita State's opening win over North Carolina Central. Hall, for lack of a better descriptor, kicks butt. He's built like a truck and plays high energy all the time.
This becomes significant with positioning. It's imperative DJ Haley, Juvonte Reddic, and anybody else who roams in his general direction makes Hall work. Hard. One thing we saw last year was Hall became frustrated when he didn't get the ball and it affected his play. In short, Hall can be his own worst enemy. Frustration, a by product of havoc, is our friend.
Keep an eye on Ron Baker. Everywhere. He's a 6-3 freshman and a big time shooter with range. Think Troy Daniels. Baker hit 4-7 from deep against NC Central and led Wichita State with 18 points.
The point guard is always key, and Oregon transfer Malcolm Armstead runs the show. Armstead is a lefty and strong, but not particularly an offensive threat. The key is getting him to make bad decisions, disallowing his strongest suit--running the offense (six assists, one turnover).
Finally, sophomore Evan Wessel and senior Ehimen Orukpe are very good role players. Wessel is a 6-5 kid that does all the things that let stars be stars, and Orukpe stands 7-0 and can block shots.
Wessel and Baker aren't particularly good defenders, and when you combine that with the need to be big and physical with Hall and Orupke we may see more big lineups. Then again, I could make an easy argument to play even faster, getting into transition before the bigs can set up.
I like this, actually. The best defense against a three-point shooter is crowding him, making him uncomfortable. Another good salve: push transition. The result is the same: take his legs. The added benefit is wearing down big men and making them less effective.
Dumbest statement I will ever make: turnovers are especially important. Trapping the less athletic but highly shooterific wings will force bad passes, especially towards Hall in the post. And a frustrated Hall?