Team preview: Wichita State

Blue Ribbon Illustrated previews the 2004-05 college basketball season, exclusively on Insider.

Updated: October 19, 2004, 6:22 PM ET
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COACH AND PROGRAM

Everything was in place for a memorable season at Wichita State.

The Shockers had their most talented team in head coach Mark Turgeon's four-year tenure and they were reopening Charles Koch Arena after an extensive remodeling job. WSU entered the season with visions of a trip to the MVC championship game and the NCAA Tournament, but sometimes things don't always go according to plan.

The Shockers won 21 games and advanced to the semifinals of the MVC Tournament for a second straight year, but the NCAA seletion committee didn't think they met the criteria for a ticket for the Big Dance. "Twenty-one wins was great, but it wasn't quite enough," Turgeon said.

Instead, the Shockers had to settle for a second straight trip to the NIT-this time hosting Florida State in a classic game that went to double-overtime before WSU's season came to an end with a 91-84 loss. "We've been to back-to-back NITs and we got to host a home [NIT] game last year," Turgeon said, "&but of course we are hungry for more."

With four starters back from last year's team, the Shockers hope that "more" means their first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 1988. If WSU accomplishes its goal, it we likely be because of the play of three returning seniors – 5-11 shooting guard Randy Burns (12.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg), 6-8 forward Rob Kampman (9 ppg, 5.2 rpg) and 6-5 Jamar Howard (13.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.41 spg). "My three senior leaders know me and know what it takes to win," Turgeon said.

Howard is a two-time all-league first-team selection that knows how to stuff a stat sheet for the top scoring team (71.8 ppg) in the Valley. The Kansas native, who's also a two-time all-league defender, ranked among the top 10 in the league in scoring, rebounds, field-goal percentage (.559, 3rd), blocked shots (1 pg, t-5th) and offensive rebounds (2.41 pg, 3rd). "He's our best stat guy and our best defender," Turgeon said. "He's a winner. "He has a chance to play after college."

Burns is also a handful for the opposition with his fire and ability to take a game over with his offense. The second-team all-league guard did it against Evansville last season when he ignited a second-half surge, with WSU up 50-49, and finished with 23 points. "He's so competitive as a 5-10 two guard," Turgeon said. "He's made himself into a complete player."

The diminutive guard ranked 10th in the Valley in scoring and shot 36.8 percent from three-point range (64-for-174). WSU will need both players to elevate their games as it breaks in a new point guard after losing senior Fridge Holman (10.4 ppg), who had the top assists-to-turnover ratio in the league at 1.83. Holman's backup, Matt Clark (5.0 ppg), was also part of the departing senior class along with guard Aaron Hogg, who averaged 8.3 points off the bench.

The job now belongs to 6-2 sophomore Adam Liberty (1.4 ppg, 1.6 rpg). Liberty averaged about 14 minutes per game last season and had 46 assists to 26 turnovers. "I expect him to step right in," said Turgeon, who noted Liberty's unselfish play. "He's one guy not looking to shoot the ball first."

The Shockers have two freshmen, 5-11 Matt Brauer, from Belton, Texas, and 6-2 Sean Ogirri, from Denver, Colo., to back up Liberty at the point. Ogirri could be a star in the MVC some day. He averaged about 28.5 points, 6.4 assists and 4.2 steals as a senior at Denver East Angels while leading the team to a 24-0 record and state title, scoring 32 points in the championship game. He also shot 47.4 percent from three-point range.

After losing more than 20 points-per-game from the three senior guards, the Shockers will also need production from 6-3 red-shirt freshman P.J. Couisnard. Couisnard averaged 25 points and 9.5 rebounds last season at Yates High in Houston, Texas. "He needed to get stronger [after high school]," Turgeon said. "He's a good defender, has good instincts and is an all-around player."

Couisnard is also a tenacious defender that could be the heir to Howard's job next season. WSU might be one of the few teams in the Valley that returns a veteran frontcourt with Kampman and 6-10, 248-pound junior Paul Miller (8.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg).

Last season Kampman was solid, finishing fourth on the team in scoring, second in rebounding, third in field-goal percentage (.536) and third in blocked shots (nine). He turned in his best scoring nights consecutively in late November with 21 points against Boston College and 26 against Northern Arizona. The Shockers might have relied too much on Miller at times last year. "We struggled when he didn't play well," said Turgeon, alluding to the loss to FSU where Miller was saddled with foul trouble throughout the game. "One guy we can't afford to lose is Paul Miller."

WSU does have some depth up front though if 6-10 red-shirt freshman Zach Green can return from a knee injury and once Illinois transfer Kyle Wilson, a 6-8, 232-pound sophomore, shakes the rust off his game from sitting a season. Wilson has drawn comparisons to a poor man's Dirk Nowitzki with his ability to shoot the three-pointer and stretch defenses while also being able to bang inside. "He's big enough to play center," Turgeon said. "He brings a toughness to our team."

The Shockers added another big body in 6-8, 242-pound freshman Kurt Bangle from in-state Garden City High. "He'll be a great player down the road for us," Turgeon said. "He's a big, strong kid who knows how to use his body."

The other forward in the mix is 6-7 sophomore Calvin Walls (0.7 ppg, 0.7 rpg). The Minnesota native brings an added dimension to the Shockers with his ability to play above the rim and block shots, but might be headed for a red-shirt season. "We have a lot of players, but guys have to accept their roles," said Turgeon, who hopes to follow in the footsteps of his former college coach Larry Brown and bring home a championship this season.

Turgeon won a national title at Kansas playing for Brown and was pleased to see his coach finally capture an NBA crown with the Detroit Pistons.

BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS

BACKCOURT: B+
BENCH/DEPTH: B-
FRONTCOURT: B+
INTANGIBLES: B+

The Shockers have all the pieces in place for another run at that elusive MVC Tournament title game and the NCAA Tournament except for one-a point guard.

Turgeon is comfortable with Liberty handling the job with two freshmen waiting in the wings, but until one of them steps up and proves themselves on the court, it will be the team's biggest question mark. "I'm not concerned about it," Turgeon said. "In today's world it's different [playing young players in key spots."

The senior trio of Burns, Howard and Kampman might be the best in the Valley, and figure to carry the Shockers far during the season while they sort out the point-guard job. The one problem for WSU the last two years has been getting bounced from the MVC Tournament in the semifinals. Burns, Howard and Kampman have endured the pain twice, and figure to be driven to succeed this time around.

WSU also has an added bonus in Miller at center, which is something most MVC teams are lacking going into the season. The key for Miller will be playing smart and staying on the court instead of sitting the bench in foul trouble.

The Shockers have to be one of the favorites for the regular-season and league tournament titles on paper, but still have to wrestle the torch away from Southern Illinois and Creighton, who have both reigned at the top of the MVC the last five years – if they want to accomplish their goals.

For the most comprehensive previews on all 326 Division I teams, order the 384-page "Bible" of college basketball, Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbook.com.

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