It isn’t often that a team goes undefeated in Division-I NCAA college basketball. It is more rare for a mid-major program to do so. Wichita State, a member of the Missouri Valley Conference, has been defying these conventional beliefs all season.
But can WSU sweep the rest of their conference schedule? History says probably not. The last team to finish with undefeated record in the MVC was Bradley in the 1985-86 season — and it lost two games out of conference.
Although the Shockers play in a conference that doesn’t receive the national acclaim of the Big-10, Pac-12 or ACC, the MVC has been a historically competitive conference with talented players. The likes of Oscar Robertson, Doug Collins, Walt Frazier and Larry Bird emerged from Missouri Valley. Obviously, these players no longer compete in the college ranks, but Wichita State has one more game against arguably the best player in the conference.
Sophomore D.J. Balentine of the University of Evansville scorched the Wheat Shockers for 26 points in the first contest between the two teams on Feb. 1. Balentine is the leading scorer in the conference (23.2 PPG) and is shooting over 40 percent from beyond the arc. In his first five games of the season, Balentine scored 29 or more points in each contest.
Recently, WSU has had difficulty guarding opposing scoring guards. Southern Illinois guard Anthony Beane scored 25 points in the Shockers’ last game and Indiana State’s Dawon Cummings led all scorers with 19 points when the Sycamores and Shockers battled in late January.
As a team, the Purple Aces have been pretty inconsistent this year, but what is interesting about them is their high assist ratio. Currently, UE ranks 49th in the country in assists per game (15). If the nets at the Ford Center are being generous, Evansville could score points in bunches, which is the only way they can hope to remain competitive in the contest.
Wichita State, although a competent scoring unit, wants to slow the game down and make it a defensive battle. If the Aces can exploit the guard matchup and get WSU’s Fred Van Vleet in foul trouble, Sunday’s matchup in Evansville could prove to be intense and interesting.