WICHITA (TNS) — A foot injury to junior Jaime Echenique has not only sidelined Wichita State’s starting center, but arguably its most important player.
WSU has been dominant through 12 games in the 214 minutes Echenique has been on the court, as the Shockers have outscored opponents by 95 points, 415-320. But when Echenique has been on the bench, WSU has been dominated, outscored by 90 points, 516-426, in the other 266 minutes this season.
That’s not good news for the Shockers (7-5) one week out from the opening of American Athletic Conference play next Thursday at Memphis (7-5). Echenique, according to WSU coach Gregg Marshall, likely suffered a partially torn plantar fascia in WSU’s 70-54 loss at VCU on Dec. 22. Echenique will be re-evaluated this week.
“(The trainer) thinks it’s not completely torn, but I’ve had it and that’s a tough deal,” Marshall said after the VCU game. “It’s very painful, and Jaime will have to soldier on and try to figure out a way whenever he can to play with it.”
Not having Echenique for the start of conference play would be brutal for a team hellbent on proving a preseason eighth-place prediction was a mistake. After the road trip to Memphis, WSU plays the four best teams in the AAC: Temple (10-2) at home on Jan. 6, at Houston (12-0) on Jan. 12, then Central Florida (10-2) and Cincinnati (11-2) at home on Jan. 16 and Jan. 19.
While a completely torn plantar fascia would have sidelined Echenique for more than a month, it would have offered a path to a full recovery. A partial tear is actually trickier. Rest and rehabilitation can improve the condition, but not completely heal the injury. That means at some point it will come down to a pain tolerance for Echenique to return.
Darral Willis, a senior center on last year’s WSU team, had a similar injury and was able to play through it. But the injury is different for everyone. Echenique might try to play again in early January, it could hold him out until February or if he re-aggravates the injury it could be season-ending. WSU will likely know more early next week before it leaves for Memphis.
Echenique’s averages of 9.8 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.1 blocks are deceptive to his importance to WSU.
He was a mismatch for many teams and provided WSU a 6-11 anchor in the paint. On offense, he was an inside target for WSU and could occasionally step outside and knock down a three-pointer. On defense, Echenique erased many of WSU’s defensive mistakes with his shot-blocking presence inside.
While senior Markis McDuffie and his AAC-best 18.8 scoring average make him WSU’s best player, the advanced stats reveal Echenique had the biggest influence on winning for the Shockers.
WSU’s offense and defense have both peaked this season with Echenique on the floor. The Shockers are 0.11 points per possession better than their season average on offense (1.11) and defense (0.89) with Echenique, meaning WSU is outscoring opponents by 0.22 points per possession when he’s on the floor.
That’s an impossible ask to make for freshman Morris Udeze to replicate that if he has to replace Echenique in the starting lineup. Udeze, at 6-8, doesn’t have the same height advantage, so he can’t grab rebounds or block shots at the same rate as Echenique. But Udeze comes close, thanks to more bounce and a mean streak when it comes to rebounding.
But the wild card of the situation is 6-9 freshman Isaiah Poor Bear-Chandler. He failed to make an impression on Marshall early in the season, which led to not playing in three games, but he has seen a recent surge in playing time.
Poor Bear-Chandler came to WSU billed as an offensive threat, capable of scoring on an array of post moves or stepping outside and hitting jumpers. So far that offensive punch hasn’t translated, as Poor Bear-Chandler is just 2 for 10 from the field, but that could come out in an expanded role. WSU has struggled mightily on defense with Poor Bear-Chandler on the floor this season, but Marshall has mentioned he has improved on that end in practice with his effort recently.
With Echenique available, Poor Bear-Chandler was a luxury. But if Echenique misses time, the freshman will be relied upon to produce against top-tier competition.
“When his motor is revving, he’s a totally different player,” Marshall said one week ago. “That’s what I have to deal with, when to go with him or not. It’s hard to tell. If I could have that type of Poor Bear, a guy who is energetic and ready to move around and deny the post and hedge ball screens and get back in there and fight for rebounds every single night, he’d get more minutes. I think he knows that and he’s trying.”