Full installation of the new offensive system under Paul Mills is going to take time for the Wichita State men’s basketball team.
It’s not as simple as memorizing play calls and knowing where to go on the court. There’s a rhythm required. Timing matters. Practice and watching film can help, but game experience is the best teacher.
Entering Monday’s season-opening game, the first-year head coach estimates WSU’s offense is at a 2 on a 1-to-10 scale regarding understanding the playbook. The Shockers will tip off their season at 6:30 p.m. against Lipscomb at Koch Arena.
“We’re still trying to get guys where you’re supposed to be, at a speed in which you’re supposed to be at and with timing that makes all of it work,” Mills said. “Some guys are a second too early, some guys are a second too late. We’re not where we should be and that happens.
“The best analytic in the world is offensive rebounding, so we can cure a lot of those mistakes by pursuing the ball and then retrieving them.”
Mills is confident WSU will be a good rebounding team this season with a starting lineup that features nearly 14 feet of centers in Kenny Pohto and Quincy Ballard, not to mention dogged rebounder Dalen Ridgnal, veteran big man Jacob Germany and 6-foot-8 pogo stick Isaac Abidde off the bench.
The Shockers have excelled on the glass in their pair of tuneups for the season in a closed scrimmage against Iowa and an exhibition victory over Rogers State where they doubled up their Div. II competition in the rebounding department 54-27.
A small critique from the exhibition was WSU losing three rebounds because players didn’t secure the ball with two hands, something Mills is confident has been cleaned up in practice.
“We’re going to be good at rebounding, but are we going to be great at it?” Mills said. “I don’t know that answer right now, but we’re trying to be great at it.”
WSU’s rebounding advantage should continue Monday against Lipscomb, a team that ranked 30th in the country in defensive rebounding last season but graduated the biggest (literally and figuratively) reason for that in 6-foot-10, 275-pound center Ahsan Asadullah.
Lipscomb won’t have that kind of size in its lineup this year, but the team does have 6-foot-11, 210-pound sophomore Grant Asman as a reserve. Even then, Ballard (6-11, 251) and Pohto (6-10, 243) have significant weight advantages.
“(Offensive rebounding) is going to be extremely important,” WSU junior Colby Rogers said. “We can crash and make sure we’re a presence on the offensive glass. That gives us easy buckets, gets fouls, layups, kick-out 3s are the best. Mills really stresses that in practice. Those are the 3s we really want to take and you don’t get those types of 3s unless you have people crashing the glass and rebounding.”
While Lipscomb may not be able to match WSU in size, the Bison are a dangerous opening-night opponent. Coached by veteran Lennie Acuff, Lipscomb returns its top four scorers and three starters from last season’s 20-win team and is picked to finish third this season in the ASUN Conference.
The focal point will be 6-foot-8 junior forward Jacob Ognacevic, who averaged 17.7 points and made 70.7% of his 2-pointers last season. Per Synergy, Ognacevic ranked among the best players in the country in his post-up, cutting and transition opportunities.
“It will be an in-game adjustment,” Mills said. “You have a game plan going into it and we met as a staff (Friday) to talk through a number of clips that we know will present problems. Coach Acuff is phenomenal, so you know he’s going to counter it somehow. So how good is our backup plan?
“Anytime you find yourself against a team with this many upperclassmen, this many returning starters and with this level of star, you know you’re in for a really good basketball game.”
After practicing against each other for so long, Mills said the players are excited at the prospect of playing a different team with real stakes.
And if the Shockers are to avoid another November upset loss in the Roundhouse, they know they will have to play well against an opponent like Lipscomb.
“We’ve just got to stay locked in and understand our goals and our roles,” WSU junior guard Xavier Bell said. “Everybody comes in each and every day and does what they need to do to help the team win. Just knowing that and trusting the game plan, we’ve just got to go out there and execute.”
Lipscomb at Wichita State basketball preview
When: 6:30 p.m. Monday
Where: Koch Arena (10,506), Wichita
Streaming: ESPN+ (Shane Dennis and Bob Hull)
Radio: KEYN, 103.7-FM (Mike Kennedy and Dave Dahl)
KenPom says: WSU 76, Lipscomb 69
Vegas says: WSU -7
Series: Lipscomb leads 1-0 (0-0 in Wichita)
Projected starting lineups
Note: Stats are from 2022-23 season at their respective schools other than McCormack (Presbyterian), Rogers (Siena from 2021-22 season) and Beverly (Miami).
Coach: Lennie Acuff, fourth season, 65-60
Wichita State Shockers
Coach: Paul Mills, first season, 0-0