When Seton Hall announced a home-and-home series with Missouri Valley Conference juggernauts Wichita State in June, the schedule addition immediately injected grit to an improved non-league slate.
The Pirates will travel to Kansas to take on Gregg Marshall's Shockers on a Tuesday night in December after butting heads with in-state rivals Rutgers the Saturday prior; Wichita State hosts Saint Louis on the same Saturday. ESPN currently owns the rights to Missouri Valley games, adding the potential for a nationally televised contest (or ESPN3/SNY at worst) if Seton Hall and Wichita State both start their respective seasons well.
Seton Hall's journey to Koch Arena, WSU's hostile on-campus venue (capacity: 10,512), will be one of their toughest non-conference trips in recent history, second to only Duke (2005-06), Louisville (2003-04) and Michigan State (2001-02) since the 2001-02 season. Wichita State has only lost one non-conference home game - a Bracketbuster match-up with national semifinalists VCU in 2011 - since dropping a game to UMKC in November of 2008.
Wichita State's success this season will likely hinge upon head coach Gregg Marshall's talented three-man backcourt in point guard Fred VanVleet, and scoring guards Ron Baker, and Tekele Cotton following the graduation of leading scorer Cleanthony Early, who is now a New York Knick. In addition to their obvious offensive abilities, the backcourt trio averaged 1.9, 1.4, and 1.4 spg last season, respectively; Cotton is considered a lockdown perimeter defender and 'glue guy' by some.
Cleanthony Early isn't the only forward gone from 2013-14: The Shockers will also miss the services of Chadrack Lufile and Kadeem Coleby, a pair of 6-foot-9 forwards who saw time at the 'five' in Wichita last season prior to graduating. In short, WSU has a lot of question marks in their front court, but none in their backcourt as the 2014-15 season approaches.
Roster subtractions: Cleanthony Early (16.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg), Chadrack Lufile (5.9 ppg, 5 rpg), Kadeem Coleby (2.6 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 1.3 bpg), Nick Wiggins (5.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg), Derail Green (1.1 ppg - transfer to Incarnate Word)
Returnees to watch: Ron Baker (13.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.1 apg), Fred VanVleet (11.6 ppg, 5.4 apg), Tekele Cotton (10.3 ppg, 4 rpg, 2.4 apg), Darius Carter (7.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg)
Key additions: 6-foot-11 Tom "Bush" Wamukota (Kilgore JC, Tx.), Tevin Glass (NW Florida State JC, Fla.)
VanVleet - Baker - Cotton - Carter are near locks to start for Wichita State this season, but questions remain at center, where a combination of junior college transfers and a redshirt freshman will look to step right in to the fold for the Shockers.
6-foot-11 Tom "Bush" Wamukota began his collegiate career at NAIA Wiley College in Texas prior to a stint at Kilgore College. While he didn't impress statistically at either school, he is billed as a very athletic 6-foot-11 center with tons of upside and immediate rebounding and blocking abilities. The native of Kenya will battle for time at center with fellow junior college transfer Tevin Glass, who was pursued by Murray State and Louisiana Tech, and redshirt freshman Shaquille Morris. Glass, however, is more of a mobile power forward with superb rebounding skills than a traditional center. Shocker fans tend to think that either Glass or Wamukota will get the nod as WSU's starting 'five' this season.
Much like last season, Wichita State will rely on their three dynamic guards in 2014-15. This time around, Gregg Marshall will utilize freshman guard Corey Henderson Jr. as a back-up point guard to Fred VanVleet after having only Ron Baker as emergency cover at the point last season. Similarly, redshirt freshman combo guard Ria'n Holland and junior Evan Wessel (12.4 mpg, 1.2 ppg) will come off the bench at the two or three.
Despite losing their leading scorer and having a major question mark in the post, Wichita State (35-1, 18-0) will be an incredibly tough out for Seton Hall this season. In addition to their nearly perfect non-conference home record since 2008 (42-1 since loss to UMKC in 11/08), the Shockers are just a flat out good basketball team. Outside of their loss to Kentucky in the NCAA tournament, their 35 wins last season were all by a margin of victory of five or more points except for one: a 3-point road win over Missouri State in overtime.
Wichita State was statistically efficient across the board in KenPom last season, resulting in a 5th overall rating in that index as well as a final standing of 4th in RPI. While efficient, Gregg Marshall's teams don't play up-tempo: WSU finished 244th in adjusted tempo, and Marshall's teams have played no quicker than 232nd since he took over in 2007.
Unless one of Tevin Glass, Tom "Bush" Wamukota, and Shaq Morris prove to be an impact newcomer at the 'five', Wichita State will go as far as their backcourt and returnee Darius Carter take them. Even with the loss of Cleanthony Early, two post forwards, and back-up small forward Nick Wiggins, the Shockers project to be a top-25 team yet again in 2014-15 and an even more dangerous team than that while playing on campus in Koch Arena.
Here's a look at the rest of Seton Hall's non-conference schedule leading up to their trip to Wichita:
- Seton Hall hosts a depleted Mercer Bears squad on opening day to complete a 2-for-1 series
- Nevada stands in the way of a date with Clemson (or Gardner-Webb) at the Paradise Jam
- A look at both Clemson and Gardner-Webb, Seton Hall's potential round two opponents in the USVI
- Round three of the Paradise Jam: LSU, Old Dominion, Illinois State, Weber State
- The Hall plays host to George Washington after non-conference tournament
- Mount St. Mary's visits Newark in a potential trap game prior to Rutgers
- Rutgers visits Newark in the second installment of their new 8-game series