No. 9 Wichita State faces struggling South Florida
No. 9 Wichita State is off to a 2-0 start in its first season in the American Athletic Conference and has a pair of very winnable games up next, before the Shockers' schedule gets tougher.
Wichita State hosts struggling South Florida on Sunday afternoon. The Bulls, in their first season under coach Brian Gregory, have dropped three straight games and have not been at full strength, with senior forward Payton Banks, the team's leading scorer, recovering from an illness.
Banks missed two games, but did play 10 minutes off the bench in South Florida's last game, a disappointing 69-67 loss at home to East Carolina. The Bulls (7-9, 0-3 AAC) failed to build on a six-point halftime lead and suffered their third straight loss to open conference play.
"I'm disappointed but obviously not discouraged," Gregory told the school's website after the loss. "You've just got to keep getting better. We've had some good basketball from some guys. I think the freshmen are playing well. It's good to get Payton out there, obviously very limited, but that will bode well down the road for us."
The Shockers (12-2, 2-0 AAC) are coming off an 81-63 victory over Houston. Landry Shamet scored 18 points, and Wichita State hit 10 3-pointers in a dominating, 53-point first half against the Cougars. The Shockers held Houston to a season low in points.
"I thought we played very good defense, to hold that team to 63 points when they are averaging 80-something," Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall told the school's website. "They are a very good basketball team and have great shooters."
South Florida has struggled offensively, averaging 63.9 points per game (341st in the nation). Gregory said the Bulls' defense was the bigger concern against East Carolina.
"Number-wise offensively, other than the turnovers, if we shoot 46 percent, 53 from the three, 83 from the line and outrebound a team, we're going to be in good shape," Gregory said. "Unfortunately, our defense was not at the level it needed to be at in this league when you're playing high-quality players."
Wichita State has quality up and down its roster. Shamet leads the Shockers in scoring (17.1) and assists (4.6). Four Wichita State players are averaging in double figures.
"We are really deep," Shamet said after the win over Houston. "It's just good for a lot of reasons, like tonight, when we are playing well you can conserve some minutes for a lot of guys and even that out. If one guy isn't playing well, it's always the next man up. It's really nice being deep like that."
Wichita State travels to East Carolina on Jan. 7, before entering a challenging three-game, one-week stretch featuring games against Tulsa, SMU and Houston, three opponents picked to finish in the top half of the conference.
The Shockers joined the AAC last spring after 62 years in the Missouri Valley Conference. They are considered the favorites, along with Cincinnati in the AAC.
The Shockers have been outstanding at home. They have won 26 in a row and are 66-1 in the last five seasons at Charles Koch Arena. This will be the first meeting between South Florida and Wichita State.
Updated January 6, 2018