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Shockers, UConn open American play on Saturday

HARTFORD, Conn. — No. 8/10 Wichita State (10-2, 0-0 American) begins a new era on Saturday when it travels to UConn (7-5, 0-0) for its American Athletic Conference opener.

Tipoff at XL Center in Hartford is scheduled for 11 a.m. CT (Noon ET) on CBS with Rich Waltz and Jim Spanarkel.

The Voice of the Shockers, Mike Kennedy, joins Bob Hull on Shocker Radio (KEYN 103.7 FM and online at GoShockers.com/Listen).

Westwood One will carry the game on affiliates across the country, along with the TuneIn app for your mobile device, and online at WestwoodOneSports.com. Gary Cohen and Donny Marshall have the call.

1 — NEW SCHOOL APPROACH:
Saturday’s game comes 267 days after Wichita State’s move to The American was formally announced (April 7). On July 1 — after 72 years in the Missouri Valley Conference — Wichita State officially joined The American as a non-football member… WSU won or shared the MVC title in five its last six seasons and finished with a four-peat, dropping just four conference games in four years to close out their Valley tenure… WSU’s 68-4 conference mark (.944) over the last four seasons was the highest conference winning percentage of any team in any league… The Shockers have finished first or second in their conference standings in each of the last eight seasons. Only three schools (Gonzaga, 20; Kansas, 17; Belmont, 12) have longer streaks.

2 — NICE TO MEET YOU II:
This is just the second meeting all-time between WSU and UConn. On Nov. 22, 2010, the Shockers dropped a quarterfinal heartbreaker to eventual national champion UConn (83-79) at the Maui Invitational. WSU led by 9 with 9:55 to play, but Kemba Walker scored 29 of his 31 points in the second half to help the Huskies rally. The loss likely cost the Shockers an NCAA Tournment bid, but they recovered to win the 2011 NIT title with five victories by an average of 15 points.

3 — BATTLE TESTED:
WSU senior Rashard Kelly needs just three more rebounds to reach 500 for his career. He’d be the 40th Shocker to reach that mark and the fifth under Gregg Marshall. (For perspective, WSU’s 1,000-point club has 45 members, eight of which played for Marshall).

4 — ROAD WARRIORS:
Since the start of the 2013-14 season, the Shockers own the most road wins (43-6) and highest percentage (.878) in Division I… WSU has been the decade’s best road team at 69-14 (.831) since the start of the 2010-11 campaign… As of Wednesday, Wichita State’s eight-game true road winning streak is tied with Villanova for the nation’s longest.

5 — ON THE LEFT FOOT: 
Junior forward Markis McDuffie returned to practice on Dec. 20 and saw his first action of the season in the Dec. 22 win over Florida Gulf Coast. He played nine minutes and finished with three points, five rebounds, a block and two assists… McDuffie has been recovering from a stress fracture in his left foot since late September. The injury did not require surgery but kept him sidelined for over 12 weeks… Last year’s leading scorer (11.5) and rebounder (5.7), McDuffie is also a key defensive presence for the Shockers and a major source of energy. As a sophomore, he forced a team-high 42 steals…McDuffie’s wasn’t the only high-profile Shocker inury. In August, sophomore Landry Shamet suffered a stress fracture of his own. Shamet missed preseason practice but returned just in time for the season opener.

DONNIE & THE NEW KIDS:
It’s Wichita State’s first foray into The American, but one Shocker assistant is well-acquainted with the new league. Donnie Jones joined Gregg Marshall‘s staff over the summer after six seasons as head coach at UCF (2010-16) and three more leading the program at Marshall (2007-10). Prior to that, Jones helped Billy Donovan win back-to-back national titles a Florida assistant

SHOCKERS ON THE AMERICAN LEADERBOARD:
*Wichita State leads The American in scoring offense (85.8), free throw percentage (.760), field goal percentage (.488), rebounding margin (+11.5) and defensive rebound percentage (.775).
*Landry Shamet leads The American in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.4, 55:23) and ranks in the top-6 in five other categories: points (6th, 17.1), assists (2nd, 4.6), free throw percentage (3rd, .889), 3-point percentage (2nd, .500), and 3-pointers/game (2nd, 2.6).
*Darral Willis Jr. leads The American with four double-doubles.
*Rashard Kelly tops the conference leaderboard in offensive rebounds (3.8). He and Willis both rank in the top-5 in rebounds per game.

DEPTH-CHARGED:
The WSU bench has outscored its counterpart in all 12 games this year… Shocker reserves are averaging just over 31 points per game, compared to 15.7 for the opposition… In the Nov. 28 win over Savannah State, WSU set a school record with 68 bench points.

A RUNNING THEME:
*Running teams were a running theme on WSU’s non-conference schedule. Seven of the 12 opponents rank in the top-100 in tempo, including national leader Savannah State (1st, 69.5 possessions per 40 minutes) and Oklahoma (5th, 78.3).
*Contrast that with the conference schedule that lies ahead. Tulane (93rd) and ECU (154th) top the list among American teams. Wichita State (69.7 possessions) is 191st, and UConn is 203rd (69.3).
*Seven of WSU’s 12 non-conference foes rank in the top-100 in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency rankings, including Notre Dame (10), Oklahoma (14) and Marquette (15).

NON-CON NOTABLES:
*Gregg Marshall has called WSU’s 2017-18 non-conference schedule the toughest of his 11-year tenure. Playing without injured starter Markis McDuffie, the Shockers managed a 10-2 record with true road wins at No. 16 Baylor and Oklahoma State, a runner-up finish at the prestigious Maui Invitational, and victories over three preseason league favorites: College of Charleston (Colonial), South Dakota State (Summit) and Florida Gulf Coast (Atlantic Sun).
*Since 2011-12, the Shockers are 71-15 (.826) in regular season non-conference games.
*This year’s group enters conference play with double-digit wins for the fifth time in six years. Shocker teams have posted winning non-conference records in 20-consecutive seasons.

POLL NOTES:
*WSU moved back into the top-10 on Monday after a one-week absence. The Shockers have been ranked in the top-8 for seven of the eight poll weeks this year.
*WSU’s No. 3 ranking on Dec. 11 was its highest since finishing the 2013-14 regular season with four-consecutive weeks at No. 2.
*WSU opened at No. 7 in the AP preseason rankings and No. 8 in the Coaches’ — its highest starting point since the ’81-82 campaign.
*Going back to Dec. 12, 2012 — a span of five years — WSU has been ranked or received AP and/or Coaches votes in 115 of the 125 poll weeks.
*WSU has been ranked in each of the last 12 Associated Press polls, dating back to last February. That’s the third-longest AP poll streak in school history.

SCOREBOARD & 40-YEARS AGO:
85.8 points per game is the highest scoring average by a WSU team in nearly four decades. The 1979 Shockers – led by Cheese Johnson – put up a school record 88.8.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:
Wichita State entered the week ranked third nationally in rebound margin. The Shockers have gone 16-straight games without being out-rebounded.

DECEMBER TO REMEMBER:
*Landry Shamet is averaging team-high 20.0 points and 6.0 assists in the month of December. He’s hitting at a .500 clip from three (19-of-38) and averaging better than three triples per game.
*Conner Frankamp has also begun to heat up from three after a slow (by his standards) start to the year. The senior is 12-of-26 over the last five games (.462) and is averaging 13.6 points.
*Darral Willis Jr. has scored in double-figures in seven-straight. He’s averaging 14.2 points and 8.0 rebounds during the month of December and has tallied double-doubles in two of the last three games.

LONG RANGERS:
The Shockers have hit double-digit threes in six of their 12 games this year. A year ago they did it 13 times in 36 contests… Eight Shockers have hit at least seven three-pointers this year… For the season, the Shockers’ 9.3 three-pointers per game is ahead of their pace from a year ago when they averaged a school-record 8.8 threes per contest.

KENPOM SAYS:
The Shockers have the nation’s ninth-most efficient offense. Among the top-10 on that list, three teams also have a top-40 defense to complement their scoring prowess: Villanova (No. 2 offense, No. 8 defense), Purdue (No. 7 offense, No. 12 defense) and Wichita State (No. 9 offense, No. 26 defense).
*KenPom ranks Conner Frankamp fourth nationally in turnover percentage (5.2). Frankamp committed just his fifth turnover of the year in the Dec. 22 win over FGCU, ending a string of 150+ turnover-free minutes.
*Rashard Kelly leads the American in offensive rebounds per game (3.75) and ranks 11th nationally… According to KenPom, Kelly also ranks second nationally in offensive rebound percentage, snagging 19.2 percent of all Shocker misses while he’s in the game.

BIGGEST PIECE OF THE PIE:
Landry Shamet averages 17.1 points per game. No Marshall Era Shocker has averaged more over a full season. Cleanthony Early put up 16.4 during WSU’s 2013-14 unbeaten run.

THREES COMPANY:
Conner Frankamp‘s 131 three-pointers are 11th on WSU’s career list. He needs 4 more to crack the top-10.

A SHOCKER WIN WOULD…
… improve their record to 11-2 (1-0 American).
… extend their winning streak to three games.
… close out a 6-1 December
… make them 3-0 in true road games this year and extend their road winning streak to nine.
… make them 44-6 (.880) in true road games over the last five seasons (tops in Division I).
… make them 70-14 (.833) in true road games this decade (2010-11 to present).
… give them a 1-0 start to conference play for the eighth year in a row.
… even the all-time series with UConn at 1-1.

A SHOCKER LOSS WOULD…
… drop their record to 10-3 (0-1 American).
… snap an eight-game road winning streak.
… be their first road loss since Jan. 14, 2017 at Illinois State.
… be just their seventh true road loss in the last five seasons (43-7, .860).
… make them 0-1 in conference play for the first times since the 2009-10 season.
… give UConn a 2-0 lead in the all-time series.
… be less good than a win.

UP NEXT:
The Shockers play their first home game in the American Athletic Conference next Thursday (Jan. 4) against Houston… The 6 p.m. CT tip airs nationally on ESPN… It will be the first meeting between WSU and Houston since the opening round of the 2005 NIT when the Shockers downed the Cougars 85-69 at Charles Koch Arena…. From 1950-60, both WSU and Houston were members of the Missouri Valley Conference.

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