It’s hard enough for any team to play the Wichita State Shockers on any night. Everyone regards the Shockers as the class of the Missouri Valley Conference, and after a Final Four appearance last season, it wouldn’t be a total shock to see Wichita State back in that company again this season.
But on nights like Thursday, when the Shockers score 49 points in the first half and only commit one turnover for the first 17 minutes of the game, forget about it. They aren’t losing.
This isn’t to say the Shockers (14-0, 1-0 MVC) are going to go unbeaten in the MVC, which is traditionally a very good league and one that is tough for teams to win on the road. Wichita State did that tonight against an admittedly undermanned Southern Illinois team, 82-67. The Salukis (4-10, 0-1) used to be unbeatable years ago at the SIU Arena in Carbondale, IL, but those days are long gone and no one in their right mind expected an upset Thursday.
But that’s just the kind of game that would figure to give Wichita State trouble. The truth is that the Shockers aren’t going to be expected to lose any game in the league this season, even though there are several teams that are least capable of putting up solid performances on any given night (especially Drake, Indiana State, and Missouri State).
Even last year, when Wichita State went to the Final Four, the Shockers twice lost in conference play to Evansville, a 21-15 (10-8) team that didn’t make the NCAA or NIT tournaments. WSU went 12-6 in the Valley last year, and only one of those losses was to Creighton, a traditionally strong program who left the MVC after last season to join the Big East.
Some team, maybe Drake, maybe Evansville, will probably score a win over Wichita State in conference play this year. But tonight showed that for it to happen, the Shockers are going to have to help a bit by beating themselves with turnovers, foul trouble, poor shot selection, etc. While Wichita State won by 15 points tonight, the fact is, it basically could have named its winning margin tonight and it wouldn’t have been a surprise.
Four Shockers (Cleanthony Early, Fred VanVleet, Tekele Cotton or Ron Baker) are capable of leading the way offensively. Against SIU, it was Early’s turn, as he finished with 23 on an impressive 8-for-11 shooting night; VanVleet added 17. Desmar Jackson and Sean O’Brien tied for top honors on the Salukis with 17 each.
The Shockers finished the game with just seven turnovers, while assisting on 16-of-30 field goals. Despite three players finishing with four fouls, that wasn’t nearly enough to derail Wichita State against the obviously weaker competition. By the time Wichita State committed their second turnover tonight, it was already ahead 44-26 with 2:53 to go in the first half and the game was basically over.
If Wichita State doesn’t cause their own demise, the story will be the same for the rest of the Shockers’ MVC opponents this season. Wichita State faces Northern Iowa at home next on Sunday afternoon.