Wichita State’s 13-0 start is the top mark in school history. The No. 10 Shockers have thrived off the momentum they attained during last season’s Final Four run. And now, they’re set to begin Missouri Valley Conference play. But the success has not changed the program or its game-to-game focus, Gregg Marshall told ESPN.com.
ESPN: You topped Davidson 81-70 on Sunday night, but the Wildcats put up a fight. How do you prepare your team to face a team like Davidson, which is probably a better team than its record suggests?
Gregg Marshall: They had their best player [De'Mon Brooks] out for six games and we did a nice job against them [Sunday]. We weren’t perfect. It wasn’t an aesthetically pleasing game, but in the end we won by 11 points against a team that’s going to win a lot of games down the stretch here.
ESPN: How did the Final Four run last year affect this season’s squad?
Gregg Marshall: I think it gave them confidence. I think it let them know if we play well and we defend and we play as hard as anybody, we have a chance to be successful. You don’t have to make every shot and you don’t have to make every play, but you have to make more than the opposition. And I think we believe that now, that our guys, if they continue to grind and play harder than the opposition, there’s a chance, if we’re knocking down shots, we’re going to be on the positive end of the scoreboard.
ESPN: You dealt with injuries last season. Ron Baker has been hindered by an ankle injury this year. What’s his current status, and what concerns do you have about his health going forward?
Gregg Marshall: We’ve got to get him healthy. He’s far from being 100 percent. It was evident [Sunday]. You could tell because he grimaced as he shot the ball. The good news is an injured Ron Baker is better than a lot of players. That’s just a fact. He knows how to be in the right place. He’s constantly giving you everything he can possibly give you. Cleanthony Early did not practice [Saturday]. He was under the weather, but he gutted it out and had a hell of a game. That’s what we coaches have to do now. We have to manage crises. We have to manage all the things that will come along.
ESPN: How has point guard Fred VanVleet matured since last season?
Gregg Marshall: He’s a dynamic talent. This guy is playing so heady and so smart and so well, he is really orchestrating our team. He’s better defensively than people realize. He’s doing a great job executing. He’s like a coach on the floor. That term is spread around. He should be the poster child. He’s a guy that does a great job. He wants to win more than I do, which is saying a lot. Just a tremendous, tremendous young talent.
ESPN: How has Cleanthony Early handled the increased pressure he has faced as a player whom opponents know they have to contain now?
Gregg Marshall: Lately, he’s been incredible. The last handful of games he has just found his way. If they’re going to [defend] him on the 3-point line, he’s going to go inside, he’s going to drive it, he’s going to find the ball in the mid-post. He’s scored over 20 points in some of the last several games and he’s really rebounding well. He’s really starting to come into his own. He realizes he’s a marked man. I just told him don’t worry about the physicality. Don’t worry about the people defending you. Just play. And he’s starting to have a lot of success.
ESPN: You’re undefeated now. And there’s talk about this team’s potential to get through the conference slate without a loss. What’s your response to that?
Gregg Marshall: Anybody talking about that has not played a gantlet of the 18-game Missouri Valley Conference schedule. That’s not something we’re talking about. We’re talking about winning the next game. And the next game is at Southern Illinois and that’s going to be a challenge. [Barry Hinson’s] going to be coming back from a family tragedy. He’s won two in a row since his rant. … We know. We lost there last year. We’ve got our work cut out for us. We’re not overlooking anyone. And we’ve got 18 of those.