News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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January 29, 2013

Sycamores meet No. 15 Shockers

Indiana State, Wichita State are surprises of MVC this season

TERRE HAUTE — In addition to building one of the strongest programs in the Missouri Valley Conference, Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall expands the language too.

One of his favorite adjectives to describe a team is “ratty.” It’s a term of endearment with a little bit more of an edge to it than “scrappy.”

Marshall’s Shockers have defined “ratty” in his six seasons at Wichita State and he paid Indiana State the same compliment on the eve of the Sycamores’ visit to Koch Arena tonight.

“I like ratty,” Marshall said during Monday’s MVC coaches’ teleconference. “They don’t beat themselves and they play hard. They’re tough. They make plays. I watched their games against Miami and Ole Miss. I was impressed with their resolve. They were very calm.”

ISU will have to be at its ratty best on its travels to Kansas. The Sycamores and Shockers are the surprise packages of the Missouri Valley Conference season based on preseason expectations.

And while the Sycamores have been impressive — ISU is currently in third place after being picked seventh — the Shockers have shattered their modest preseason station and re-emerged on the national scene.

Wichita State (19-2, 8-1) is currently No. 15 in the Associated Press poll and 14th in the coaches’ poll. The MVC-leading Shockers defeated preseason favorite Creighton at Koch Arena and currently have a 19-game home winning streak. Their losses were at Tennessee and at Evansville.

WSU’s high standing in the polls even has the notoriously hard-to-please Marshall beaming.

“That’s pretty high cotton. That’s what we say in South Carolina,” said Palmetto State native Marshall on the Shockers’ poll status.

The Shockers were picked fourth in the MVC preseason poll, but their success hasn’t surprised ISU coach Greg Lansing.

“Both programs want to have high expectations every year. Wichita is one of those teams you look at every year as being at or near the top and they probably have the best homecourt advantage of any team in the conference,” Lansing said. “They’re a little like us in that some of the guys who didn’t play last year were there, so they got to practice some.”

The Shockers’ new contributors have been a revelation. Forward Cleanthony Early is a load in the middle, averaging 15.2 points and five rebounds per game. He stepped in when incumbent Carl Hall broke his thumb in December, and the Shockers didn’t skip a beat.

Youngster Tekele Cotton and transfer Malcolm Armstead provide grit with excellent defense on the perimeter.

Hall returned from his injury four games ago, making the rich richer at WSU. So far, Marshall has used Hall — who averages 12.3 points and 7.9 rebounds — off the bench since he returned, but that could change tonight.

“I had heard he had talked to my assistant coaches and said he liked coming off the bench because he was able to see how the game’s being called and how it develops. He liked that,” Marshall said.

“But after he didn’t play well and didn’t start against Bradley [last Saturday], he says to one of my other assistants, ‘Am I going to be a sixth man all year?’ I’ll have to have a conversation with Carl myself and see what he thinks to find out what’s best for all of us.”

The good news for ISU (12-6, 6-3) is that it gets a passing grade for stepping up to the challenge against other highly touted teams this season. ISU owns wins over Mississippi (SEC leader) and Miami (ACC leader). The Sycamores lost in overtime to New Mexico and were competitive at Creighton for 30 minutes in a loss.

Marshall paid homage to ISU point guard Jake Odum, but he also has respect for the Sycamores’ other contributors.

“They’ve got other weapons. Manny can score, he likes to get to his sweet spot by the elbows. Gant can shoot it. Mahurin can shoot it. They’ve done a great job of replacing the guys they lost. They haven’t missed a beat,” Marshall said.

“We’ve played some awfully good teams,” Lansing said. “Our guys just kind of believe. They believe in each other and they believe in themselves. We think we’re a good team with a chance to get better. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”

Arop agrees.

“We’re going over there pretty confident. We know we can compete with anybody. If we play our game, it should be an interesting game,” he said.

n Lansing honored at Statehouse — Though ISU had to practice and fly to Wichita on Monday, Lansing didn’t hesitate when asked to be honored by the Indiana House of Representatives for taking part in the Suits and Sneakers Challenge to help raise awareness for cancer prevention.

Lansing met with Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma to be honored. Indiana legislators agreed to wear sneakers with suits to raise cancer awareness.

State Representative Bob Heaton, who played on ISU’s 1979 Final Four team, was also present and had much to do with Lansing’s participation.

“I have to thank Bob Heaton for creating this opportunity, not just for me, but for Indiana State University,” Lansing said. “I knew I had to do it, I had to find a way, even though it was a busy day. They changed the schedule around so I could be there. It’s a tremendous honor for a very worthy cause. There’s a lot of people fighting a much tougher battle than any game we’re in.”

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