HARTFORD, Conn. — After 72 years in the Missouri Valley, No. 8 Wichita State officially steps into American Athletic Conference with its league debut at Connecticut on Saturday.
“Obviously you want to make a good first impression,” leading scorer Landry Shamet told Kansas.com recently. “But we’re approaching this like we would with any other good teams we’ve played. We just look at it like we have another good team we have to go try and beat.”
The Shockers, who had advanced as high as the No. 3 spot in the poll, dropped to No. 11 but are back in the top 10 at No. 8 as they bring a 10-2 record into this game against the Huskies (7-5).
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“You start watching them on video against Arizona and you start to realize they’re just as long and as athletic as Arizona,” Wichita State assistant coach Kyle Lindsted said of UConn. “It kind of takes you back a little bit. It’s a different type of player than we’ve seen over the years in conference up and down the line.”
The Huskies announced during the week that redshirt freshman Alterique Gilbert had been knocked out for the season for the second straight year because of a left shoulder injury that could require a second surgery.
Gilbert played in the first six games of the season, averaging nine points, four rebounds and 2.8 assists.
“As we have said all along, we are going to listen to Alterique and do what is best for him and his family,” coach Kevin Ollie said. “If that includes surgery, then we will give him all the support he needs and welcome him back on the court next season. Meanwhile, he will have the chance to see the game from a different perspective.
“I know he will continue to be a great team leader — during practice, during games and off the court as well.”
The Shockers won five of the last six Missouri Valley titles and finished first or second in that league each of the last eight years. They went 68-4 in conference play over the last four seasons.
“Anybody who is competitive wants to play the best of the best,” says Shamet, who leads his team in scoring at 17.1 points. “It’s something I think we’re all looking forward to.”
Gregg Marshall’s Shockers come into this game with a key ingredient in tow. Markis McDuffie, who missed the first 11 games of the season with a stress fracture in his left foot, returned and played nine minutes in the Dec. 22 win over Florida Gulf Coast.
McDuffie led the Shockers in scoring (11.5) and rebounding (5.7) last season.
Wichita comes into this game leading its new league in scoring (85.8), free throw percentage (76.0), field goal percentage (48.8), rebound margin (plus-11.5) and defensive rebound percentage (.775). The Shockers are 43-6 in true road games since the start of the 2013-14 season.
The Huskies suffered their five losses by an average of 20.8 points. And with his team struggling, after winning just 16 games last season, Ollie is reportedly one of the nation’s coaches planted firmly on the hot seat.
Obviously, an upset of the No. 8 team in the country on Saturday could change things.
Jalen Adams (18.2) and Terry Larrier (15.5) lead the Huskies, who have lost two straight, in scoring.
“We just let teams go on too long of a run,” Adams said earlier this week.