Welcome back, Wichita State.
The Shockers followed a 76-67 home win over then-No. 21 Memphis with a double-overtime win over Connecticut over the past week and jumped seven spots to No. 16 in Monday’s AP Top 25.
They’re No. 25 at KenPom.com, 18th in Warren Nolan’s ELO ratings, and, most importantly, No. 9 in the NCAA’s NET rankings — quite different spots from last season.
A year ago, Wichita State finished January with three straight losses, including a 20-point blowout at UConn, that left it with a 1-6 start in the American Athletic Conference and 8-11 overall record.
The Shockers recovered to win 14 of their final 18 and reach the semifinals of the NIT. But 2018-19 marked the end of seven straight trips that included a Final Four appearance in 2013 and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament the following year.
That 2014 team was 35-0 before falling in the second round to a ridiculously under-seeded No. 8 Kentucky in one of the games of the decade. Those Wildcats advanced to the national title game.
“We cut down on our turnovers and improved our defense and rebounding in the last 18 to 20 games last year,” Shockers head coach Gregg Marshall told The Athletic. “This year we’ve added the ability to score. We’ve got more guys now that have added the ability to get a bucket when the defense takes you out of your stuff and you just need to make a play.”
Last season’s Shockers had a top-50 defense but were offensively challenged (135th in the nation in adjusted efficiency, according to KenPom). Wichita State is currently No. 60 in offensive efficiency, and the team is improving: The Shockers were No. 115 at the end of November.
Marshall’s incoming freshman class is one of the best he has had come to Wichita. Six-foot-1 guard Tyson Etienne and 6-2 Grant Sherfield have made immediate impacts, while sophomore guard Erik Stevenson has raised his 3-point shooting from 27.8 percent as a freshman to nearly 37 percent and leads the team in scoring at 14.1 points per game, more than double his 2018-19 output.
“The freshman group came in very precocious and has a good IQ for the game, and they’ve been able to quickly pick it up,” Marshall told The Athletic. “The sophomores have a year under their belt and are much better at running our stuff.”
The Shockers are 16-1 going into road game against Temple this evening. They have two Quadrant 1 wins (over the Tigers on Thursday and by 19 at Oklahoma State in December), and their only loss was to West Virginia (KenPom No. 10) at a neutral site in Mexico.
Wichita State still needs to improve more on offense, especially from inside the arc — the Shockers are 258th nationally in 2-point field goal percentage. There are still three possible Quad 1 wins (on the road vs. the NET’s Top 75) remaining: at Cincinnati, at Houston and the return trip to Memphis. (SMU, 12-3 overall and 2-1 in the AAC, sits just outside the Top 75 at No. 76.)
If the Shockers continue to handle playing away from home — Wednesday’s meeting with the Owls is just Wichita State’s third true road game — they won’t be on the wrong end of this season’s bubble discussion.
Seton Hall +6 at Butler: The Bulldogs are one point (a 53-52 loss to Baylor) away from being a perfect 17-0. They have the No. 6 defense in the country and a near-elite offense (17th nationally in effective field goal percentage).
But the Pirates have four top-50 wins — including over NET No. 17 Maryland — during a six-game win streak and are finally healthy. They also come in with an elite defense and 21.5-point scorer Myles Powell. SETON HALL and UNDER
Santa Clara at Gonzaga, Total 155: The Broncos head to The Kennel sporting a gaudy 15-3 record.
They have wins over Stanford and, on Saturday, at Saint Mary’s. But they also have two blowout losses, by 31 to Nevada and 19 to San Francisco.
Gonzaga coaches, as they did part-way through last season, have turned their attention to defense, and the Zags over the past four weeks have improved from 92nd to 53rd in efficiency at that end of the floor. UNDER
Michigan at Iowa -4: The Wolverines looked like a Top 5 team when they ran past Iowa State, North Carolina and Gonzaga at the Battle 4 Atlantis, but they’re just 4-5 since a 7-0 start.
The Michigan defense has slipped from No. 10 to No. 41 during that stretch, not a good trend with the Hawkeyes up next. Iowa and its No. 6 overall offense are 7-1 at home; the Wolverines are 0-4 on the road. IOWA
Last week: 2-2