Today marks the Kentucky Wildcats’ 36th game on the year, which means I’m writing my 36th Pregame Scouting post. I’m not sure there has been one game with more potential angles to take than this one. Between the UK-Wichita State rematch, the horrible seeding of the Shockers that gave UK this matchup in the second round, and the mid-major vs blue-blood debate, this game is filled with storylines. On top of that Wichita State brings a 16 game winning streak into this game, while Kentucky is sporting their own 12 game streak. Despite all that, I’ve decided to ignore what you’ll hear on ESPN, CBS, TNT, TBS, and TruTV about this game and just give you the straight facts about each starter for Gregg Marshall’s Shocker squad.
At this point in the season, nothing else matters but this game. Let’s take a look at the probable starters for the Wichita State Shockers this afternoon.
#32 Markis McDuffie, Sophomore Forward, 6’8″
While the Wichita State Shockers win the majority of their games with an extremely balanced scoring attack across the starting five and even some bench players, Markis McDuffie is their most valuable player. Last season, McDuffie won the Missouri Valley Conference Freshman of the Year award. McDuffie played for the legendary Saint Anthony High School in New Jersey for head coach Bob Hurley Sr.
McDuffie leads the Shockers in points, rebounds, steals, and free throw percentage on the season. His per game averages include 11.7 rebounds, 5.7 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 1.2 steals. The forward has the ability to step away from the basket, similar to Derek Willis’ shooting ability. McDuffie is shooting 36.8% from three point land this year, to go along with an 81.9% average from the charity stripe.
At 6’8″, the sophomore weighs only 212 pounds, which means his best matchup for style of play and body type is Derek Willis. After seeing Willis get abused by Carson Williams of Northern Kentucky University in the second half of Friday’s game, that’s not exactly what I was hoping for in the next game. However, Willis has the experience of guarding solid players over his four years at UK and I think he comes out with some energy to try to keep McDuffie in check. Reminder: Willis doesn’t have to stop McDuffie every possession, he just has to keep him in check and the rest of the team can d0 their own jobs.
#11 Landry Shamet, Freshman Guard, 6’4″
Landry Shamet is the lone freshman in the starting lineup for the Shockers. Shamet redshirted last season, after coming to Wichita State as a three-star prospect and the highest rated recruit in the Gregg Marshall era at WSU. He wasn’t originally supposed to redshirt his freshman season, but a surgery to correct a stress fracture in his left foot kept him out long enough for a medical redshirt.
The freshman is the true point guard that runs this Shocker offense, but his scoring makes him especially dangerous. He leads the team in assists with 4.5 per game, to go along with being just slightly out of the lead in scoring at 11.2 per game. He also adds 2.9 rebounds per contest. His shooting is second to none, and his 44.6% from three and 80.2% from the free throw line percentages prove that point.
As I mentioned above, Shamet will be running the point for Gregg Marshall, which will match him up with De’Aaron Fox for Kentucky. Two freshman paired up in the NCAA Tournament at the 1-position is always interesting to see how they will handle the pressure. Shamet will have to handle the pressure of not only the stage of this game, but the defensive pressure of Fox and probably Dominque Hawkins throughout the game.
#24 Shaquille Morris, Junior Forward, 6’8″
Shaquille Morris was one of two starters returning from last season Wichita State Shocker team, as he started the final 29 games of his sophomore season. His body and his stamina were two major concerns when he first arrived to Wichita State, so he used a redshirt freshman year to reach the proper conditioning for Division I basketball. With his improved conditioning, Gregg Marshall saw Morris develop into a key contributor for the Shockers.
The junior is putting up solid numbers for his style of play. He’s averaging 9.5 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, and a team leading 0.9 blocks per game. Despite his overall size, Morris can step away from the basket and hit a mid range jumper, but he doesn’t often venture beyond the three point line as he’s hit 4/14 deep balls on the season. Morris does shoot 79.5% from the free throw line.
Morris measures at 6’8″ and 265 pounds, putting him one inch shorter the Kentucky’s Bam Adebayo, but 5 pounds heavier. The pure size and strength of these two post players would cause issues for most teams, but the two actually match up with each other pretty well. The Shockers have already said they will be “shutting down” Bam’s rebounding today, so we should see a concerted effort to keep Bam off the boards. Look for other players for Kentucky to have to crash the boards to avoid giving up offensive rebounds.
#33 Conner Frankamp, Junior Guard, 6’1″
If you recognize Conner Frankamp’s name, it isn’t because he played for Wichita State the last time Kentucky faced the Shockers in the tournament. It is because he started his career for Bill Self at the University of Kansas, where he was a sharp shooter off the bench, including hitting 7 of his 14 threes in the NCAA Tournament his freshman year. Frankamp transferred to Wichita State after that year, and has been ripping the nets from three point land for Gregg Marshall since then.
Frankamp plays the two guard spot in the Shocker offense. He is scoring 9 points, dishing out 2.7 assists, and pulling down 1.6 rebounds per game this season. Shooting from deep is Frankamp’s strong suit, as he’s hitting 44.4% of his threes on the season. Over 66% of Frankamp’s shots this season have been from behind the arc, so Kentucky will need to chase him off of that to stop his hot shooting.
Guarding Frankamp is a bit of an interesting match up for the Wildcats. It would make sense to have Isaiah Briscoe guard Frankamp as he is a bigger offensive threat than the fifth starter, Zach Brown. However, Malik Monk is usually set to guard the three point specialist on the opposing team, leaving Briscoe to guard the bigger three-man. Either Kentucky guard matching up with Frankamp would make sense to me.
#1 Zach Brown, Junior Forward, 6’6″
Zach Brown was the second of two returning starters for the Shockers this season. He started 31 of 35 games last season for Gregg Marshall as a sophomore and is well known for his defensive abilities. Brown is the leader in the locker room for the Shockers, as the most experienced player on the roster.
Brown’s stats aren’t huge but he does give you a consistent effort on both ends of the floor. Brown averages 7.4 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game this year. Like a lot of the Wichita State players, Brown can hit the deep ball. He shoots nearly 34% from three and 69.6% from the free throw line this season.
The junior’s offensive game can’t be forgotten as to avoid letting one of their smaller contributors turn in a big game, but Brown’s defense is his true bread and butter. Look for Brown to match up with Malik Monk or Isaiah Briscoe to try to slow down the fast paced Kentucky offense today. I’m not sure Brown has the speed to up with Malik Monk off the dribble or running the floor off the ball. However, I do think that if he matches up with Monk, he’ll try to use his body to wear Monk out throughout the game.
I’ll reference my intro to the post in saying that there are a huge number of storylines going into this game, as if the selection committee did this on purpose…but you have to play the games you are given. The Cats will have to come out fast and play a full 40 minutes to beat Wichita State today. They can’t take off the final 10 minutes of the second half as they did against NKU and still come out victorious. If the Cats take care of business, then we’ll start looking forward to the Sweet 16, but for now, the focus is on the Shockers.
Go Cats. Beat Shockers.