Wichita State Basketball: Keys to the Shockers' 2012 NCAA Tournament Run

Mike ChiariFeatured ColumnistMarch 12, 2012

Wichita State Basketball: Keys to the Shockers' 2012 NCAA Tournament Run

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    The Wichita State Shockers were surprisingly eliminated in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament's semifinals by Illinois State, but they were able to secure a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament by virtue of their strong 27-5 overall record.

    Wichita State missed out on March Madness last season, but it still had a very fruitful postseason as it managed to beat Alabama to win the NIT. While the NIT obviously isn't on the same level of importance as the NCAA tournament, it allowed a lot of players to get some big-game experience.

    The Shockers have had quite a bit of success in the NCAA tournament during their history, and although they are normally considered underdogs, big things are expected of Wichita State this season. That isn't to say that the Shockers are in the national title hunt, but you never know as mid-majors like Butler and VCU have made a lot of noise in recent years.

    Here is everything you need to know about Wichita State's upcoming NCAA tournament run.

Superstars Who Must Shine

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    While it can be said about a lot of teams, the Shockers truly play as one unit and don't have any true superstars who are going to go off on a regular basis. With that said, there are certainly some very integral players on the team who will need to come up big during the tournament if Wichita State is going to have an success.

    The Shockers have a couple go-to guys on offense, and while others can pick up the slack when they are off their respective games, the following players must be at their best in the coming games.

     

    Garrett Stutz

    Senior center Garrett Stutz is one of many major contributors for the Shockers, but it wouldn't be unfair to say that he is the most important.

    He took a huge leap forward this season after averaging just 15 minutes per game last year, and he now leads the team in scoring with 13.5 points per game, rebounding with eight per contest and blocks with one every game. At 7'0", Stutz is simply a matchup problem on both ends of the floor.

    Almost every team has good guards, and while guards can win you a national title, it is much tougher to find quality big men.

    Stutz is just that, and his mere presence gives the Shockers an advantage over the competition. He is proficient in the paint as he shoots 55.6 percent from the field, and he hits over 80 percent of his free throws, so he is an all-around threat the opposition must account for.

     

    Joe Ragland

    Like Stutz, point guard Joe Ragland is a player who has really improved from last season to this one as he went from a fringe starter to one of the most integral players on the squad.

    Ragland leads the team in assists with 3.4 per game and he only turns the ball over 1.8 times per game, which is quite impressive for a point guard. Even better than that, though, he is second on the team in scoring with 13.4 points per contest.

    Ragland shoots nearly 57 percent from the field, which is almost unheard of for a guard. While he does excel at getting to the rim, it isn't as if Ragland is solely a dribble-and-drive player.

    He is also a good spot-up shooter as evidenced by his team-leading 57 three-pointers and three-point percentage of 50 percent. Efficiency is paramount in the NCAA tournament, and Ragland is as efficient as they come.

Role Player Who Must Emerge

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    In his first season with Wichita State since transferring from Northwest Florida State, Carl Hall has become a huge part of the Shockers' deep rotation. Although he is technically a bench player, Hall often plays starter's minutes and provides a ton of energy off the bench.

    He doesn't have the scoring touch of Garrett Stutz, Joe Ragland or Toure' Murry, but he does a little bit of everything, and that makes him quite valuable.

    The 6'8" forward isn't afraid to get his nose dirty as he ventures to the paint with great regularity. He excels in that area as well with over eight points per game. On top of that he is the second-leading rebounder with five per contest and is an apt shot blocker.

    Hall is long and athletic, and he is the type of defender that the opposition would rather not deal with in crunch time.

    Sometimes calling a player a high-motor guy is looked upon negatively as a connotation for lacking talent, but that isn't the case with Hall. He is a very skilled player, but he also works harder than most players on the floor.

Offensive Strategy to Watch

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    When it comes to Wichita State's offense, it all comes down to a deep rotation of capable scorers who have great instincts for finding high-percentage shots.

    The Shockers ranked 12th in the nation in adjusted field goal percentage at 54.7 percent this season, and that is a testament to the effectiveness of head coach Gregg Marshall's offense.

    Not only do the Shockers have a myriad of bigs who can get to the rim and score, including Garrett Stutz, Ben Smith and Carl Hall, but there guards are equally effective shooters, particularly Joe Ragland.

    Although it may seem hard to believe that Wichita State can possibly continue to hit shots at such a high rate, they managed to do it all season long.

    Interestingly enough, offensive efficiency tends to be a hallmark of every successful mid-major teams. For all the talent that power conference teams have, some have a tendency to freelance and play outside the offense.

    That is never the case for the Shockers, and that is why they have a chance to do some big-time damage in the coming weeks.

Defensive Strategy to Watch

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    Defense is a big reason for the Shockers' success this season, and it is highlighted by pressure and intensity.

    The Shockers have an endless wave of athletic wing players and smaller guards who play great on-the-ball defense, so playing against Wichita State is certainly never a walk in the park. They are very good and stealing the ball and forcing turnovers thanks to their persistence.

    On top of that, the Shockers do a nice job of protecting the paint. Garrett Stutz is the main reason for that as opposing players find it difficult to navigate past his 7'0" frame. The best and most effective way to score in college basketball is normally getting into the lane, scoring near the basket and getting to the line, but Stutz makes that very tough to do. 

    On defense, just like on offense, the Shockers play great as a team.

    That isn't to say that they don't have good individual defensive players, because they do, but the system works very well and that is yet a credit to head coach Gregg Marshall, who had his share of success in the NCAA tournament at Winthrop.

Biggest NCAA Tournament Hurdle

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    Kentucky

    I don't expect Wichita State to have any trouble with VCU in the round of 64 and I think the Shockers will upset Indiana in the next round, given the Hoosiers just lost senior playmaker Verdell Jones III in the Big Ten tournament.

    But the Kentucky Wildcats are a different story.

    Getting to the Sweet 16 would be a dream come true for Wichita State in itself, but that is where it will end.

    The Wildcats are arguably the best team in college basketball this season (some would say there is no argument to be made). They can score, rebound, defend the paint, and run up and down the floor with the best of them.

Last-Second NCAA Tournament Prediction

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    Sweet 16 Exit

    The Shockers will get rocked on the glass by the Wildcats. That alone will be too much to overcome.

    Even with all their offense, the Shockers don't have the size or athleticism to keep up with Kentucky, particularly their big men like Anthony Davis.

    With a starting lineup consisting of four guard-sized players and one center, Wichita State will simply be outmuscled by Kentucky in the end.