Wichita St. takes blue collar ethic to Big Apple vs. Cougars

SUNDAY, MARCH 27, 2011, 6:15 P.M.

NEW YORK – It’s really simple.

“There’s a reason why they’ve won 27 (games),” Washington State basketball coach Ken Bone said this week. “They’re good.”

The “they” are the Wichita State Shockers, the Cougars’ opponent in Tuesday night’s National Invitation Tournament semifinal at Madison Square Garden.

Though why they’re good may escape the casual fan.

Wichita State doesn’t have a star. It doesn’t play in a big conference or in a media center. Coach Gregg Marshall’s team just goes about its work quietly, with balance.

The Shockers (27-8 overall, including a 14-4 second-place Missouri Valley Conference finish) have only one player averaging in double figures, 6-foot-8 fifth-year senior J.T. Durley, who scores 11.4 points a game.

But they have 10 who average between 13.6 and 25.5 minutes a game.

“They’re really well balanced,” Bone said. “They keep coming at you with eight or nine, 10 guys, and those 10 guys contribute in a number of ways.

“Whether it’s scoring, rebounding, you look at the assists. It looks like almost an equal opportunity offense, although they have their stars.”

And all the Shockers shine in one area. They all rebound.

Wichita State is one of the better defensive rebounding teams in the country, giving up an offensive rebound about once in every four possessions. Overall, the Shockers average nearly eight more rebounds per game than their opponents.

Again, they do it by committee. Gabe Blair, a 6-8, 235-pound senior post, leads the way with 6.4 per game, but five Shockers have more than 100 rebounds this season.

“You can’t really play off of one or two guys, because there are a lot of guys who can hurt you,” Bone said.

Wichita State took a different route to New York than the Cougars, who stayed at home all three preliminary rounds. Wichita had to travel to Blacksburg, Va., to face No. 1 seed Virginia Tech in the second round. There, Shockers junior guard Joe Raglund hit a short shot in overtime to lift Wichita to a 79-76 win.

The victory gave the fourth-seeded Shockers a home quarterfinal, and they held off the College of Charleston’s Cougars 82-75.

The formula in that one was typical, with four players in double figures led by Blair’s 16 points and eight rebounds.

“They are very well-coached, they’re strong, they’re athletic and they play right,” Bone said. “It’s just not a bunch of kids who are athletic and run around and make plays on their own. It’s structured, it’s organized on both ends of the court. They’re a good ballclub.”

Washington State (22-12) and Wichita State do have one thing in common. They are both WSUs.

“We need to be the best WSU on the court that night,” Bone said.

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