Wichita's bag of tricks revealed

Keep it balanced

Ask which player is the heart of the team, and you'll get a different answer every time.

Illinois State coach Dan Muller said that's exactly the point. While he said he realizes VanVleet's value to the team, it's not any greater than that of guards Ron Baker and  Tekele Cotton or forward Cleanthony Early.

"They get it from all different areas," Muller said. "Their 1 through 4 are all really good and instrumental to how good they are."

Lansing noted that the Shockers' play began to elevate last season, when Baker began playing more. Lansing and Missouri State coach Paul Lusk agreed that Cotton was probably the most overlooked of the group because he functions more as a "glue guy."

"Tekele Cotton is just a tough, tough competitor," Lansing said. "He's a very unselfish guy, the best defender they have. He just does the little things that his team needs. He's not worried about scoring, but if he has to score he will. He plays his role better than anybody else."

Evansville sophomore guard D.J. Balentine said he believes that distinction goes to the 6-foot-8 Early. The senior leads the Shockers with 15.8 points and 5.9 rebounds, and Balentine said his teammates respond to him the most.

"He'll get them all together, he'll get big buckets," Balentine said. "They know when to get him the ball, and he knows when to take over. It ain't hard to tell."

Three-ring center

When it comes to who's playing center-by-committee for the Shockers, it is hard to tell. They virtually operate in complete anonymity, which is partly because the Shockers lack a true center.

During any given game, Wichita coach Gregg Marshall may use three players at center, including Darius Carter, who at 6-7 is the most undersized of the group. Seniors Chadrack Lufile (6-9, 266 pounds) and Kadeem Coleby (6-9, 251) bring bulk to the position, and as Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson noted, "it's hard to beat them up inside."

"They don't get enough attention paid to the players that have been playing at the center position because they're playing three guys there," Jacobson said. "Their minutes are down. They don't have stats in terms of points and rebounds that jump off the page."

Individually, they don't. But collectively, they've proved more than capable.

Combine the averages of Lufile, Carter and Coleby and the Shockers have a center who scored 16.5 points, grabbed 12.5 rebounds and blocked 2.8 shots per game. But it's hard to realize how effective they are because no one player is generally on the floor for too long. Carter's 18.3 minutes per game is the highest average of the trio.

Toughness defined

Wichita State has arguably earned more national attention during the regular season than it did during the previous history of the program. But it's by no means a glamorous team. Early is the only player considered a surefire first-rounder in the NBA draft.

The Shockers have climbed to the elite ranks through the unceremonious way of playing defense and rebounding. They're good at devising a game plan that takes away their opponent's strength. In last season's NCAA tournament semifinal against Louisville, the Shockers held the backcourt of Russ Smith and Peyton Siva to a combined 7-of-26 from the field.

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