After being picked seventh in the American Athletic Conference preseason poll by the coaches, Wichita State has a marker it can summon for motivation while grinding through league play.
Interim coach Isaac Brown, who took over after Gregg Marshall resigned in November, declines to acknowledge a chip on the shoulders of the Shockers (8-3, 4-1 AAC).
Then again, Brown doesn't deny it exists, either. His team is in the thick of the AAC race entering Thursday's game at Memphis (6-5, 2-2), a program that received much more fanfare in the preseason.
"I think we just take it one game at a time and Memphis is our next opponent," Brown said. "It's a big challenge for our guys because Memphis was picked ahead of us. They were picked No. 2. They've got the team with all the five-star (prospects). They've got the team with the top recruiting class."
The Shockers, who are led in scoring by 3-point threat Tyson Etienne (17.9 points per game), have been idle since Jan. 13.
Because their game Sunday against SMU was postponed due to COVID-19 safeguards and rescheduled for Feb. 15, Wichita State instead worked on different game situations and experimented with various roster combinations in a series of five-minute scrimmages.
"We weren't able to play a real game, so we called it, basically, a black-and-gold scrimmage. I thought we got a lot out of it," Brown said.
The Tigers, meanwhile, fell 58-57 at Tulsa on Sunday -- their first game since Dec. 29 after three straight COVID-19-related postponements. Memphis could get a boost Thursday after lifting its ban on attendance and permitting 20-percent arena capacity.
A season-high 21 turnovers, against a season-low nine assists, hurt the Tigers in their narrow loss at Tulsa, where they forged a 35-23 rebounding advantage and shot 47.8 percent.
Memphis at times has looked frenzied on both ends, leading the AAC in both steals (9.0) and turnovers (17.8) in league play.
"The time we had off was well spent, but we're not ready to win those types of games yet," said Memphis coach Penny Hardaway, "because you got to be tough, you got to pay attention to detail, you got to get stops when you got to get stops and your ballplayers, your guys, got to make shots when it's time to make shots."
Four Tigers are scoring in double figures, led by Landers Nolley (13.3). Alex Lomax leads Memphis in assists (3.7) and DeAndre Williams leads in steals (1.7).
Memphis announced that signee Jordan Nesbitt, a St. Louis four-star recruit, has enrolled for the spring semester and is eligible.
--Field Level Media