Even though it was technically an upset, Wichita State proved against Pittsburgh that they are the real deal...
With a name like the Shockers, you simply have to expect the unexpected. Wichita State has lived up to their name admirably as they have provided some excellent moments in March Madness over the years. Under Gregg Marshall, the Shockers have established themselves as a perennial contender in the Missouri Valley Conference. With Marshall, they have become a program that has thrived off of recruiting excellent athletes and throwing them into a system that uses their abilities to the fullest. Let's take a look at what makes the Shockers such a tough matchup.
Wichita State's defense downright gets after it. The Shockers are an old-school, scream in your face as you walk down the court type of team. They'll go man-to-man and Gregg Marshall promotes the motto "play angry". On the season, WSU has held the opposition to just over 60 points per game which is one of the best marks in the country. KenPom ranks them as the 27th most efficient defensive team. The Shockers will likely come out and press the Zags early and look to force turnovers. They rank 52nd in the nation in steal %. When they settle into their halfcourt defense, they shrink the court with their length and size. They have allowed a 2P% of just 44% which ranks 58th in the country. The Shockers have tended to underwhelm on offense from time to time, but if they come out and play like they did against Pitt on defense, they are going to have a great shot to knock out the No. 1 seed.
It goes without saying that if Gonzaga plays as flat as they did against Southern, they lose this game against Wichita State. This rings especially true as it relates to hitting the glass. The Shockers have established themselves as one of the top rebounding teams in the nation and they are led by a couple guys that stand at 6'8''. Get ready to hear the names Carl Hall and Cleanthony Early. Hall and Early drive the Shockers and it all starts on the boards. They combine for 12 rebounds per game and the Shockers as a whole are pulling down 38 which ranks 27th in the nation. They do a great job, in particular, on the offensive glass. They are ranked 20th in Offensive Rebounding % by KenPom. When the Zags have been tested, we have usually seen them struggle to commit to hitting the glass and you better believe Gregg Marshall is preaching that to his team all day today and leading up to the game tomorrow.
So...where are the holes
If you watched yesterday's game against Pitt, you already know. For as athletic and tenacious as the Shockers are on defense, they struggle on offense. They are ranked 213th in 3P%, which bodes well for the Zags as they still have a tendency to allow teams to get hot from outside. The Shockers also struggle from the line as they shoot just 69%. In all likelihood, this will be a tight and relatively low scoring contest so their performance from beyond the arc and at the charity stripe could be the difference. With that said, Early and Hall and the rest of the Shockers are going to try and do most of their work in the post so it is paramount that Olynyk, Harris, Dower, and Karnowski are committed to defending and hitting the glass with force.
All season long we have spoken about how this Gonzaga team has the toughness that others have lacked in the past. Tomorrow's game against Wichita State will give them a chance to prove it on the big stage.