The CHIEF’s Film Room: Wichita State @ Memphis

Wichita State @ Memphis | CBSSN | 8:30pm CST| KenPom No. 120

Today, your Memphis Tigers play host to Head Coach Gregg Marshall’s Wichita State Shockers.  Shockers hoops beat writer Taylor Eldridge of the Wichita Eagle provides a breakdown on the match-up.

The Skinny on the Shockers:

Where do you think Wichita State ranks in the American Athletic Conference and what are your expectations after the non-conference schedule? 

I have Wichita State rated as my seventh-best team in the American currently, but I picked the Shockers to finish in a tie for sixth (with Memphis and Tulsa) due to the unbalanced schedule. WSU’s 7-5 record looks mediocre, but it should be noted that it played the most difficult non-conference slate in the AAC. Yes, WSU lost to La Tech at home and got punked by OU and VCU on the road, but this team also owns two of the conference’s best wins: Providence and Baylor. I predicted WSU to finish 9-9 in conference, picking up three road wins (at East Carolina, South Florida, Tulane) and going 6-3 at home.

How did Shockers fans react to Marshall releasing now Memphis guard from his NLI?

Like any fan base, there were some fans who were upset at the team’s most prized recruit wanting to leave after he had already signed his letter of intent. The situation was tough since Memphis is in the same conference as WSU. It was always going to be a tough pill to swallow losing your point guard of the future, but losing him in-conference made it even tougher. There was a good portion of the fan base who understood Alex’s situation and what Penny meant to him and wished him the best. Marshall received some praise from national media following the situation for his willingness to let Alex leave after signing his letter of intent, so I think that helped smooth the situation when the attention shifted more toward Marshall’s act. It also opened the door for another scholarship for WSU, which was ultimately filled by West Virginia transfer Teddy Allen, who is likely going to be the team’s best player next season. In some ways, it became a win-win for both sides.

Who’s the best Wichita State player we may know about?

Markis McDuffie is WSU’s best player. He was injured last summer and came back in the middle of the season, but never regained his form. He’s finally healthy and having a career year, averaging 18.8 points and 5.1 rebounds as WSU’s go-to player. McDuffie (6-8, 218) is playing exclusively as a stretch-4 this season and he’s proven himself as a two-way player. He’s defending other 4s well enough in the post, then is proving to be a tough matchup on the offensive end because he is now shooting and making more 3s than ever (38 percent on six attempts per game). He’s been deadly this season when WSU can give him catch-and-shoot opportunities and he’s fearless attacking the basket. Sometimes that leads to forced shots that end in bad misses, but he’s drawing a ton of fouls this season as well. No one else on the perimeter for WSU is shooting very well, so opponents can greatly increase their chances of winning by holding McDuffie to an inefficient scoring game.

Image result for markis mcduffie
Photo: 24/7 Sports

Who’s the unsung hero of the squad? 

Jaime Echenique has been WSU’s most important player this season, as WSU is a plus-90 in Echenique’s 214 minutes this season and a minus-90 when the 6-foot-11 center from Colombia is on the bench. He’s averaging less than 18 minutes per game, mostly due to conditioning. He went down in the second half of WSU’s last game on Dec. 22 at VCU with a foot injury and his status for Thursday’s game is unclear, if not unlikely. He’s a true game-changer for WSU. He’s an elite rebounder and his offensive put-backs are huge for an offense that is struggling shooting. He also gives WSU its most effective option in the post, plus Echenique can pop to the three-point line and make an occasional shot. On defense, his 6-11 frame and timing make him a great shot-blocking presence and erases a lot of mistakes WSU’s inexperienced guards make on the perimeter. Echenique’s replacement, Morris Udeze, can probably take care of most of the rebounding and defensive duties, but his size (6-8) isn’t the same as Echenique and he doesn’t have the versatility on offense. Not having Echenique would be a big loss for WSU.

Which newcomers will have the biggest impact? 

Well, most of WSU’s team is newcomers, so there’s a lot of choose from. Ricky Torres was a junior-college All-American last year and his vision and passing having translated, but he’s really struggled with his jump shot. Erik Stevenson is a freshman who is already doing all of the little things (deflections, rebounds, assists, steals), but has also really struggled shooting from the outside. He was billed as a shooter and his stroke looks good, so I think he’s due to break out after shooting just 27% on threes in the non-conference. Dexter Dennis, another freshman, has missed the last two games due to a concussion, but he should be back for the Memphis game. He’s a top-notch athlete that already has made him a good defender, but he’s still waiting to unlock that athleticism on the offensive end. As I mentioned above, Udeze, a freshman, is likely to step into the starting lineup if Echenique can’t go. The last one is freshman Jamarius Burton, a 6-4 guard who looks more like a linebacker at 215. He’s tough to stop when he gets momentum going to the basket, but like the rest of the freshmen, is still looking for consistency in his outside shot.

How do the Shockers get a win here in Memphis?

Winning on the road is going to be difficult anywhere this season for WSU with so much youth and inexperience. To win at Memphis, WSU must handle Memphis’ defensive pressure in a way that it has struggled to do for much of this season. Per Synergy, WSU ranks in the bottom 1 percent of college basketball in press offense. WSU has turned the ball over a ton against pressure, so it will need great decision-making games from point guards Torres and Samajae Haynes-Jones and also the trio of freshmen guards. WSU’s best defense is going to be its offense, meaning if it can avoid live-ball turnovers, then Memphis won’t have as many chances to thrive in transition. It’s no secret Memphis is gambling a ton on defense, so if WSU can withstand that initial wave of pressure, it’s likely going to end up finding clean looks. It would help if WSU can snap out of its shooting funk, but I would say it’s No. 1 key to winning this game is to handle Memphis’ pressure with poise.

How best would Memphis protect home court?

On the flip side, Memphis has probably watched film of VCU’s half-court trap give WSU’s ball handlers fits and is envisioning doing similar things to the Shockers. Memphis is playing at a crazy-fast tempo, something that WSU hasn’t done very much this season. If Memphis makes WSU play its style, then it should have the advantage. WSU has struggled mightily making outside shots, so turning them into jump shooters should be a priority as well. It’s a game where I think Memphis should certainly be favored at home and it will be an important swing game for both teams that are trying to escape the middle of the pack and make a push for a top-four finish in conference.

Updated Team Stats:

Points PGRebounds PGAssists PGPoints Allowed
85.138.316.777.2 (291st)

King Hooper:

Since Penny sent Kyvon Davenport packing to the bench, he has responded with some of his best and most consistent play this season (and maybe in his career as a Tiger).

The last 5 games, Kyvon has averaged 17-10 and 1.5 blocks per game, shooting 69% (nice) from deep.

I must say, though, I preferred the dreadlocks look, but I’ll get used to #HeadbandKyvon.

Odds & Ends:

  • Memphis enters this game middle of the pack in the AAC (as does Wichita State). The Tigers have won their last three games post-UT “balled fist” fracas, granted these wins come against lower-KenPom competition (Little Rock, TN State, and Florida A&M). Tonight’s game is a chance to separate the wheat from the AAC chaff and move into the top third of the conference.
  • Memphis hangs up a scorching 85 points per game, good enough for 17th in the country (a product of its run and gun offensive style). The Tigers’ last three wins in particular have come as a result of increased focus (trying?) on defense. We know this team can score, but can it consistently defend as we enter conference play? Your guess is as good as mine, but we’ll certainly find out.
  • Antwann Jones’ passing is transcendent, but he’s probably the most selfish unselfish player of all time. If the play doesn’t run through him, he will wag his arms like a petulant child denied a toy in the aisles of Toys ‘R Us (RIP). He reenters the starting lineup after a “disciplinary” benching last game. He’s high risk/high impact. Let’s hope for the latter as the season progresses.

Next Man Up:

The Tigers head to Houston to take on the undefeated 19th-ranked Cougars on Sunday, 1/6 for a 5pm tip.

Follow me @TheBarnChief and for other MEMPHIS content, check out the rest of The BarnBurner HERE.  #GoTigersGo

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