Shockers look toward first ever AAC game

WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) -- Saturday will officially be 267 days since the Shockers accepted their invitation to join the American Athletic Conference and leave the Missouri Valley Conference behind. Saturday will also be the men's conference opener against UConn.

They accepted that invitation in April with one goal in mind:

"They want to play the best, they want to compete against the best, because they ultimately want to be the best," Head Coach Gregg Marshall said back in April.

His senior forward Rashard Kelly also spoke about their conference move prior to this season. He and his teammates were relieved to be playing more competitive basketball.

"It's like stretching your muscles, you want to stretch them until they reach a certain point," he said. "I think in the Valley, we kind of sold ourselves short a little bit, not playing half-speed, but playing down to competition some days."

The last of the Valley days were trite, a bunch of beat-down performances en route to another conference title.

But so far, this season has had a much different tone, even just through the non-conference slate.

"Yeah, people got tired of the 30-40 point blowouts in the past, so you haven't seen that," Marshall said. "And I don't know if that's us not playing to our potential or the competition being really, really good and getting up for us and Wichita State, a ranked team."

Now, as the Shockers enter their first AAC Conference schedule, assistant coach Kyle Lindsted and the rest of the coaching staff is preparing the team for tougher and stronger competition.

"You know, it's a different type of player than we've seen in conference up and down the line," he said.

Lindsted says they have the stronger mentality over their AAC foes.

"I think we'll try to get it across to them that our advantage is going to be to play harder, play smarter, be tougher," he said. "You're not going to out-athlete these guys, so you better do the things we've been known for doing over the years. We've got to get to that and make sure that's what we're about."

Wichita State and UConn tip off Saturday at 11:00 AM CT on KWCH 12 in Hartford, Connecticut.