Alabama will hit the road again, this time for Wichita, Kansas. Charles Koch Arena (capacity: 10,506) will not be a welcome venue for our guys. The fan support for this Wichita State program is enviable, and with an SEC school coming to town, Alabama should expect one of the most intimidating environments they will likely see all season.
There's been plenty for Shocker fans to cheer the last four seasons as the program has enjoyed an unprecedented run of success. In 2011, they defeated Alabama in the NIT final to win that tournament. In 2012 they returned to the NCAA tournament, but were knocked out by a VCU team that reached the Final Four. The following season, Wichita would be the upstart, knocking off Pitt, #1 Gonzaga, LaSalle and Ohio State before losing a tough, close game to eventual national champ, Louisville. Last season, Wichita proved that run was no fluke by going 35-0, before losing by two points to eventual runner-up, Kentucky, in the second round.
Head coach Gregg Marshall has done a fantastic job with this program (and Winthrop before that), and at this point has to be considered, at least, one of the top 10 coaches in the college game. And, as one would presume, Wichita State is the early favorite in the Missouri Valley conference, and expected to be a top 25 program yet again.
Wichita State will return 4 of their top 8 scorers from last season. The three that will garner the most attention coming into the season are Fred Van Vleet (the 2013-14 MVC Player of the Year, 11.6 ppg, 5.3 apg), Ron Baker (13.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.1 apg) and Tekele Cotton (10.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg). Cotton could be primed for a breakout season with star player Cleanthony Early moving on. Wichita State will also have to count on some new guys to produce. Marshall brings in a 6-man class (two jucos and 4 freshmen), plus returns two redshirt freshmen. All of them will need to produce on some level to help keep Wichita among the nation's elite.