Defense will be somewhat optional on Friday when No. 4 seed Wichita State takes on No. 13 seed Marshall in San Diego.
Statistics website KenPom ranks Wichita State’s adjusted defensive efficiency at No. 107 … and the Shockers have the better defense in the matchup. Marshall’s at 143, and the Thundering Herd gave up 114 and 112 points in losses to William & Mary and Western Kentucky, respectively.
The two sides will light up the scoreboard starting at 12:30 p.m. CT on TNT.
KenPom predicts that both teams will hit the 80-point threshold, but names the Shockers an 11-point favorite, thanks in large part to Wichita State’s terrific offense, which ranks fourth nationally. Marshall can also put up points, though the Thundering Herd do so more with tempo than they do with a super-efficient offense. Marshall plays at the nation’s sixth fastest tempo, while its average offensive possession is 14.2 seconds, the third-fastest mark in the country.
If Marshall does get out and run, it would do well to locate Wichita State’s three guards — Landry Shamet, Austin Reaves and Conner Frankamp — in transition. Shamet and Reaves shoot 45.9 and 43.5 percent from three, respectively, and while Frankamp is having a down year shooting the ball, he’s still a dangerous threat. Frankamp is making 34.7 percent of his three-point attempts, though he shot 44.2 percent last year, and a recent slump is responsible for a pretty big dip — he’s made just 2-of-15 three-point shots in March this year. Take away that slump and he’s making a bit more respectable 37.2 percent.
Their shooting opens up the paint for Shaquille Morris, who either draws a foul (he draws 5.5 of them per 40 minutes) or finishes, making 58 percent of his two-point attempts.
But he could have his hands full with Marshall’s Ajdin Penava, one of the nation’s best shot-blockers. Morris has bulk and strength on Penava, but Penava can hit the outside shot and pull Morris out of the paint, so it should be an interesting duel.
And if Penava gets Morris out of the paint, it means free reign for Marshall guards Jon Elmore and C.J. Burks, who both average better than 20 points per game.
So whether Wichita State has the ball, or Marshall does, expect some serious fireworks.
Below is a brief scouting report for each team (stats are from the regular season).
Wichita State (4)
What to Know: Some picked this Wichita State team as high as a top five team heading into the season, and with good reason: The Shockers returned a number of key players — including all five starters — from a team that went 31-5 and finished No. 8 in KenPom a year ago. But for some reason the defense fell off … way off. With largely the same players, Wichita State’s defense ranked No. 107 in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency, ranking well below last year’s No. 13 defense in the same category.
What to Know: Elmore and Burks both average 20-plus points per game. But the most intriguing player on Marshall’s roster might be Penava. Most players who block shots the way he does are paint-based on offense too — 10 of the 15 players ranked in the top 15 in shot block rate have made one or fewer three-pointers this year. And only three players nationally paired that shot-blocking with a versatile offensive skill set: Making 60-plus percent of their two-point shots and 33-plus percent of their three-point attempts. One is Auburn’s Anfernee McLemore, who missed the final five games of the year and is done for the season. One is Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson Jr., considered a high lottery pick in the upcoming NBA Draft. And the third is Penava. That’s pretty strong company.
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