Unbeaten Shockers are looking even MORE dangerous than they did during Final Four run
NOV 25, 2013 11:46p ET
And Oliver Purnell shoots you a look.
You know the one. Like you just broke wind in a church pew.
"Well, I don't consider them a mid-major," the DePaul men's basketball coach said, wincing, when asked about Wichita State. "You go to a Final Four, come on. What's that 'mid-major' (expletive)?"
Shockers 90, Blue Demons 72. Missouri Valley 90, Big East 72.
What is that mid-major expletive, anyway?
"They're big and athletic and long," Purnell said of the 12th-ranked Shockers, who dispatched his kids in the opening round of the two-day CBE Hall of Fame Classic late Monday night at Sprint Center. "So who cares if you're two inches bigger if I'm quicker and more explosive?
"And they've got a number of them (up front). So I don't think size is a weakness."
If you're searching for a flaw, pal, good luck. The new-look Shockers look a lot like the old-look, play-angry, watch-us-march-to-the-Final-Four Shockers, save for the chest-bumping and the arm bars and the occasional offensive droughts.
"These guys, I think, are a little better offensively, as a group," Wichita coach Gregg Marshall said of his 6-0 Shockers, who will meet BYU in the CBE final late Tuesday night in downtown Kansas City. "Fred (VanVleet) is better than he was last year. Cle (Early) is better than he was last year. If we can replace Carl (Hall's) scoring inside ... we mentioned 15 (points) and nine (boards) from the post players (Monday) night."
They can go small or big, fast or physical. Eight different players logged at least 14 minutes; five different Shockers took at least five attempts from the floor.
Last winter, they challenged your manhood. This winter, they're challenging your patience.
"(Sprint Center) kind of reminded us of (last spring's NCAA) tournament run, the whole setting," said Early, who turned in a very efficient, Early-esque night -- 15 points and seven rebounds. "So we just try to feed off of that."
While the crowd paled -- official attendance: 7,682 -- in comparison to recent appearances by Kansas or Kansas State at the Power & Light District, it was 97 percent Black and Gold. Which was expected, really, given that the Shox were the only school among the four participants (Wichita, Texas, BYU and DePaul) with a campus within three hours of metro Kansas City.
And while the opener between the 'Horns and Cougars went down to the wire, Monday's nightcap become a snoozer fairly quickly. It was a barn-burner, all right. If your barn happened to be made of Lego.
Midway through the first half, after both schools traded baskets, Marshall turned on the half-court trap, and the Demons promptly imploded. DePaul went scoreless for about four-and-a-half minutes while the Shockers reeled off 16 straight points, turning a 22-21 cushion into a 38-21 no-doubter.
"We're not there yet," Marshall said of his team's defensive effort. "We gave up 44 percent shooting (to DePaul) and 72 points. Some of that may be the new (hand-check) rules. I like to hold teams under 50, if we can, and under 40 percent (on) field goals."
Through six games, his Shockers have done the former just once but the latter three times. Stricter hand-checking is going to make low scores harder to come by -- that was the point of the referees' new emphasis on monitoring contact, after all -- but that won't stop Marshall harping on his guys, same as ever, to put in the blood and sweat and tears on the defensive end.
"These guys are very coachable as a group, and they know they can score," the coach said. "There's a confidence about us scoring the basketball. If we can get to the point where we're really good, defensively, as well, that's a good combination. That's hard to beat."
Then again, they were hard to beat last year, too. Just ask Purnell, whose Demons met Wichita at almost exactly this time a year ago, also on a neutral floor -- falling 75-62 on Nov. 20, 2012, in Cancun, Mexico.
"I think they're every bit as good," Purnell said. "VanVleet then was playing backup (at the point), but he really wasn't playing backup, and they didn't really lose anything whenever he was in the game. (Ron) Baker's better. Their big people, they've got two or three of those guys that ... play big and they play their role. I really like their team."
Too much armor, not enough chinks. Except, possibly, for one ...
"Maybe outside shooting," the DePaul coach said. "If you can take Baker away."
And there's that look again.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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