The return of forward Markis McDuffie has No. 5 Wichita State rolling in its first season in the American Athletic Conference.
McDuffie and the Shockers head to East Carolina on Thursday to take on the up-and-down Pirates at Minges Coliseum in Greenville, N.C.
McDuffie led the Shockers in scoring and rebounding last year but missed the first 11 games of this season recovering from a stress fracture in his left foot. He returned in late December and has made a significant impact in his last two games.
"He's just an all-around good player," Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said this week. "He goes to the offensive glass. He hits the defensive glass. It's great to have him starting to look healthy and ready to go 100 percent."
McDuffie had 12 points and six rebounds in a 95-57 win over South Florida on Sunday. It was the Shockers' fifth straight win, the last four coming by double figures.
"Our guys know if they are not devoted on both ends and playing the game the right way then they won't be out there," Marshall said. "We will find someone else. (McDuffie) gives us an all-conference caliber player coming off the bench."
East Carolina (7-8, 1-3 AAC) has lost three of last four games and already experienced a coaching change in late November, when Jeff Lebo abruptly stepped down after a 2-4 start. Assistant Michael Perry took over as interim head coach and has kept the Pirates competitive.
ECU is coming off a 70-65 loss at Connecticut. The Pirates trailed by as many as 12 points in the first half but rallied and was in the game in the final minute.
"We were able to withstand that initial push from them and continue to play basketball and continue to fight," Perry told the team's website after the loss to Connecticut. "I thought our guys did a great job of doing that.
"Our guys played with a lot of confidence and continued to believe throughout. They really competed at a high level at which they needed to win. Turnovers and offensive rebounds are telling factors that really put them into a position to win. We gave them more opportunities than we had."
Wichita State (13-2, 3-0) is a massive challenge for East Carolina. The Shockers own the nation's longest road winning streak at nine and are 10-1 since Thanksgiving. They've been hot from beyond the 3-point arc and are averaging 9.8 3-pointers per game.
Star guard Landry Shamet leads the team in points (16.1) and assists (4.7). Shamet is one of four Shockers averaging double figures in points.
"I guess it's pick your poison to defend our team," Marshall said. "We have so many guys that can score the basketball inside and out. The other night we made 12 (3-pointers) and Conner (Frankamp) doesn't play. We saw a zone almost exclusively in the first half. It's just a matter of executing and then getting quality shots. Then, when you have that opportunity, you've got to knock it down."
Marshall said that when preparing for the Pirates he focused only on recent games with Perry running the show and noticed East Carolina's effort.
"They are fighting," Marshall said of the Bulls. "They just won at South Florida in a very hotly contested game."