Games at Intrust Bank Arena remain a somewhat divisive issue for fans. Issues with seats, prices and attendance aside, the use of the arena is an unqualified success for the basketball program this season.
WSU defeated Southern Mississippi 59-51 on Dec. 22, a game that attracted little buzz, outside of the annual site debate, and drew 9,619 fans. The Shockers won without three injured starters and quickly focused on the start of Missouri Valley Conference play.
A month later, that game is a highlight of the Shocker schedule and an important piece of their NCAA Tournament resume.
Southern Miss hasn’t lost since that night and is 17-4 with a No. 40 ranking in the warrennolan.com RPI. The Golden Eagles represent one of WSU’s three wins against the top 50.
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Senior associate athletic director Darron Boatright, who works with coaches on scheduling, didn’t know Southern Miss would give WSU such a boost. It went to the NCAA Tournament in 2012, losing to Kansas State, but lost coach Larry Eustachy to Colorado State and much of its scoring punch. But Boatright knew enough about new coach Donnie Tyndall to feel confident. It helped that WSU assistant Greg Heiar is a former Southern Miss assistant and knew something about the remaining personnel. Southern Miss plays in Conference USA, a conference strong enough to sustain a school’s RPI.
“They’re better than we thought they would be,” Boatright said. “We knew (Tyndall) is a winner.”
While Southern Miss isn’t a big name, it is an example of the kind of school that can help WSU. Scheduling isn’t an exact science, but WSU can improve its odds by being picky. Charleston Southern is on WSU’s schedule because of coach Gregg Marshall’s friendship with coach Barclay Radebaugh. It also on the schedule because Marshall expected Charleston Southern to do well in the Big South. It is 7-0 in conference games and its RPI rank of No. 170 is helpful for a guarantee opponent.
“Scheduling is trying to orchestrate as strong a competition as your program is prepared for that particular year,” Boatright said. “We’re looking at mathematics (RPI) and the vast amount of information that is available. We didn’t see anything (with Southern Miss) that anyone else couldn’t have seen.”
The game with Southern Miss likely doesn’t happen without Intrust Bank Arena. The Golden Eagles weren’t going to come to Koch Arena with no return game.
Spring sports are picking up at WSU. The softball team starts its season on Feb. 8 in the Mardi Gras Classic in Monroe, La. The Shockers play UC Santa Barbara and Grambling State on the first day.
THIS WEEK IN SHOCKER HISTORY
Wichita State needed three players to score 20 or more points to win a 116-92 shootout with Bradley on Feb. 1, 1988 at Levitt Arena. Hersey Hawkins scored 37, making 14 of 28 shots, for Bradley, which debuted at No. 18 in the Associated Press rankings the next day. The Shockers beat that with balance and by making 40 of 63 shots, 7 of 9 from three-point range. Dwayne Praylow led six Shockers in double figures with 24 points. Lew Hill and Sasha Radunovich each scored 21. Steve Grayer contributed 14 points and 11 rebounds. WSU broke a 49-all halftime tie by making a school-record 80.8 percent of its shots in the second half.