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Approx. 6:20 PM PT
We've had a ton of coverage from the Arizona side of this thing, so let's take a look at things from a Wichita perspective.
I asked Matt Hollowell from Shockerhoops.net some questions about the Shockers, and what we should expect to see from Gregg Marshall's team Thursday night.
1) How often does Wichita State run a zone defense? This has been the thing that Arizona has struggled with the most this year when trying to create.
Matt: Wichita State runs mostly a man-to-man defense. The defense is suffocating and prevents offenses from getting open looks frequently. On top of being a solid defensive unit, there are also guys with great individual defensive skills. Fred VanVleet is a very sneaky defender with his hands and creates turnovers by swiping at driving guards, and Ron Baker is tremendous at blocking shots for a guard. Baker has a knack for the chase-down block on a fast break. Zach Brown is used frequently as the shutdown defender for a team's star, and Markis McDuffie has matched up on guards for a switch up in length. McDuffie has very good defensive footwork for a freshman, and is very agile in transition and lateral movement. Evan Wessel is also a defensive threat and can match up with guards, wings, and even traditional power forwards. Wichita State will switch up between a press and a half-court defensive set. Sometimes they will press hard, and other times feign a press for in-bounds pressure and then hustle back for the half-court. It keeps offenses on their toes. I would guess Wichita State to stay with their man-to-man against Arizona and cycle post players to avoid foul trouble.
2) Another thing that's given the Wildcats troubles is when Ryan Anderson has to try and guard someone who has a little bit of range. Is there a Shocker that Gregg Marshall could go to to try and set that up?
Matt: The Shockers boast a handful of players ranging from guards to wings that can extend beyond the three-point line. At the top of the list would be Ron Baker with NBA range. Baker can be streaky with his three ball, but if he's feeling it, he'll heat check himself from deep. Gonzaga can vouch for Baker's hot hand during Wichita State's Final Four run. VanVleet can also let it rip from deep. I would say the 3-point shooter that can create his own shot well, and who has a sweet stroke is Conner Frankamp. He's had a few good games this year, but has yet to go unconscious in a game as a Shocker. He may be due, and if so, watch out. Zach Brown and Markis McDuffie can also extend a defense with a three point shot. Brown loves the corner three, and McDuffie will make a defender pay if they don't respect his outside game. Unrelated to the deep three, but a player that extends the defense is Anton Grady. Grady can drain jumpers all day from 15-18 feet.
3) How do you think Wichita State stacks up against a frontcourt of Kaleb Tarczewski and Ryan Anderson when it comes to rebounding?
Matt: Comparing front courts, I'd give the nod to Arizona. However, Wichita State is a rebounding obsessed team. Marshall drills it into every Shocker in practice from day one. If you don't rebound, you don't play. I think the mentality towards rebounding is why the Shockers can match up with a tall post while being relatively undersized. Wichita State has a good track record when being outmatched in the post on paper. The best win on the Shocker's resume this year is Utah, and they handled Jakob Poeltl pretty well in Wichita. A very good post player in Evansville's Egidijus Mockevicius was handled as well this season. Wichita State doesn't have one dominating post player, but has a nice roster that can cycle the post in case of foul trouble. The post players are also very different stylistically and can pose match up issues for certain teams. Shaq Morris is a beast of a guy who can bang with the best of them, but also has some major ups for his size. VanVleet dishing oops to Morris is pretty much an every game occurrence. Morris is also a good distributor with the ball when needed. Shaq's downside is his ability to stay out of foul trouble. If Shaq can stay on the court, he can be a double-double threat. He is also a proficient shot changer and shot blocker. Fifth year graduate transfer Anton Grady is first off the bench to give Morris a breather, or more likely a cushion for foul trouble. Grady has had multiple knee surgeries over his career and Gregg Marshall describes his play as an "old man style" of basketball. He's not going to leap out of a gym, he's not going to block shots, but he's going to play solid defense, block out, rebound and make crafty moves around the rim and extend out to 18 feet. Rashard Kelly, Rauno Nurger, and Bush Wamukota will cycle in at the post to help with foul trouble and to provide defense and rebounding while the more offensive minded post players are on the bench.
4) Over the VanVleet/Baker era, what's your favorite moment?
Matt: My favorite moment for Baker would have to be his run against Gonzaga where he went 4-6 from three. Baker had just come back from a stress fracture earlier in the season. He came back from injury in the conference tournament, and only had around 3 days of practice prior to his first game back. As much as that Gonzaga game was a coming out party for Baker to the nation, it was a bit of the same for Shocker nation. From that point forward Baker was a household name in Wichita. His hometown of Scott City, Kansas even has a Ron Baker Day. The guy hadn't even graduated from college yet and his hometown created a day for him. That's how much people love him in his hometown and in Wichita.
For VanVleet it would be the same as Baker, the Gonzaga game. VanVleet was a freshman, and at the time wasn't averaging many minutes during the season. A transfer from Oregon, Malcolm Armstead was Wichita State's starting PG, but told Marshall prior to the NCAA Tournament that he should play Fred more. It's towards the end of the game, and Wichita State is making their offensive run against Gonzaga and Fred has the ball a few feet beyond the three, the shot clock is ticking down, and he just throws up this high arching three pointer. As the legend goes, he looks over at coach before the ball is even in the hoop, gives him a wink, and as Bill Raftery would say, "onions." You know Fred is a lot like Ron in the fact that he is beloved in his hometown. VanVleet was the speaker at his high school's graduation just a couple years after he himself graduated from Rockford, Illinois.
5) What is your prediction for the game?
Matt: A prediction for the game would be that this is going to be one of the highest quality 6- vs. 11-seed match ups in the history of the tournament. Regardless of seeding, Arizona and Wichita State are two of the better teams in college basketball in my opinion. When looking at both teams' metrics, if you seeded based on that, you're looking at something more along the lines of two 3-5 seeds playing each other. Obviously the world of college basketball doesn't work that way, and we're about to view a 6 vs. 11, but this is going to be high quality basketball. I think Wichita State might have a slight edge in being game ready, already having played in Dayton. I think Arizona may have the edge in preparation. Both teams are at a disadvantage in terms of travel; Arizona from the west coast to Providence, and Wichita State with the short turn around and travel. I think this game should probably be a fairly slow tempo game, but I also wouldn't be surprised if both teams hit a stride offensively and we have a shoot out on our hands. Guessing a score, I'm going Wichita State 65 - Arizona 61.