Wichita State Basketball Is on the Rise

After an ugly start, Wichita State has bounced back and is a team to watch as we near March.

Wichita State is probably the biggest “post-hype sleeper” in college basketball.

The Shockers came into the season ranked 10th in the preseason AP Poll, returning one of the nation’s best backcourts that helped key a trip to the Sweet 16 last season.

Point guard Fred VanVleet, though, was injured in a November 17 loss at Tulsa, and Wichita State went 1-3 in his absence, with neutral site losses to USC, Alabama and Iowa on neutral courts (the only win in this stretch came against Division II Emporia State).

VanVleet returned in December, and the Shockers have gone 14-1 since, with their only loss coming in overtime at Seton Hall.

Wichita State played the nation’s 20th-most difficult non-league schedule, according to KenPom, and has followed this up by obliterating everything in sight in Missouri Valley Conference play.

Few, if any, teams have been as dominant against the rest of their league as Wichita State, who is outscoring MVC opposition by almost 31 points per 100 possessions.

Wichita State now ranks 23rd in our nERD power ratings and would be expected to beat an average team on a neutral court by 13.74 points. The Shockers are also ranked 12th at KenPom, 23rd in the Sagarin Ratings, and 24th in ESPN’s BPI.

The AP Poll voters, which were so high on them to start the year, are starting to get back on board as well.

Last week, Wichita State returned to the AP Poll for the first time since November 30, ranking 22nd; after a 13-point win against fellow MVC contender on Sunday, the Shockers moved up to 21 in this week’s poll.

Back on Track on Offense

Last season, the Shockers were one of the most efficient offenses in the country, despite tying for 100th nationally in Effective Field Goal Percentage, thanks to a super low Turnover Rate and above average offensive rebounding.

This is the Shockers’ model again this season, but early on, the team could not compensate for the loss of VanFleet.

Through their first six games (four of which came without VanFleet), Wichita State ranked 318th nationally in Effective Field Goal Percentage (42.8%) and was only shooting 31.1% from beyond the arc (249th nationally). They were also only shooting 41.1% from two-point range (the Division I average is 48.5%)

Thanks to better-than-average offensive rebounding and turnover numbers and a tough slate of opponents, the Shockers still ranked 54th in Offensive Efficiency at KenPom, but the loss of VanVleet (a 39.9% career three-point shooter who led the MVC in assists per game in each of the past few seasons) was clearly having an impact.

Since his return, the Shockers have shot 35.5% from three-point range and 51.1% from inside the arc.

Overall, they are now tied for 167th in Effective Field Goal Percentage (50.3%, above the national average of 49.7%), and are also tied for the 16th-lowest Turnover Rate and 64th-highest Offensive Rebounding Rate.

The end result, after opponent adjustments, is an offense that ranks 30th in the country according our efficiency ratings and 27th at KenPom.

VanFleet (13.4 points, 5.3 assists per game, 56.0% True Shooting Percentage) has led the way and is second in the conference in Win Shares per 40 minutes, but he has certainly had help, particularly from backcourt mate Ron Baker.

Baker is third in the conference in Win Shares per 40 minutes and is averaging a team-high 14.4 points per game. He also has a 58.9% True Shooting Percentage and is shooting 37.5% from three-point range while attempting 5.0 threes per game.

An Even Bigger Improvement on Defense

While there were some signs pointing to regression on defense during the Shockers’ early losing streak, their turnaround on defense has still been staggering.

Wichita State currently ranks 19th in our Defensive Efficiency ratings but were nowhere near the top of the charts early on.

On November 29th, the team ranked 265th in Effective Field Goal Percentage (51.7%), with most of the damage coming three-point range. After the 2-4 start, Wichita State had allowed a three-point shooting percentage of 35.8%, and if we exclude the Emporia State game, the percentage rises to 37.4% (281st in Division I).

The good news here was that three-point percentage allowed tends to be unstable and out of the control of the defense, as the best way to defend three-pointers is to prevent them being taken in the first place.

The bad news was that Wichita State was not doing a particularly good job of that either, as 40.9% of all opponents’ field goal attempts came from beyond the arc (the national average is 35.2).

Since then, the Shockers have only allowed an Effective Field Goal Percentage of 44.8%, while allowing opponents to shoot 34.3% from three-point range with a Three-Point Attempt Rate of 29.7%.

This improved shooting efficiency, combined with Turnover and Defensive Rebounding Rates that both rank fourth nationally, has produced one of the nation’s better defenses, hard as this may have been to predict in November.