Wichita State can call on the wise words of former Shocker Joe Ragland when preparing for Wednesday’s game against Evansville.
“There’s no party until we win that game,” Ragland said last season before WSU’s final home game.
That situation differs from this season in one important way: The 2012 Shockers owned the Missouri Valley Conference title before their farewell to Koch Arena. They needed to ignore the impending celebration and beat Drake before cutting down the nets and celebrating with fans. The current Shockers need to win Wednesday to clinch at least a share of the title and a chance for the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament. They also need to focus on the game, not the reward nor the 10,000 fans hyped to celebrate back-to-back MVC crowns. Seniors Demetric Williams, Carl Hall, Ehimen Orukpe and Malcolm Armstead will play their final home game.
“We’ll be ready to grind one out on Wednesday,” WSU guard Fred VanVleet said. “You can’t party too early. If you focus on the win, the celebration will be even better afterward.”
The Shockers (24-5, 12-4 MVC) know the Valley issue isn’t settled until Saturday’s game at second-place Creighton (22-7, 11-5), which trails WSU by one game with two to play. Creighton plays at Bradley on Wednesday. Should WSU and Creighton win Wednesday, the Bluejays need to win Saturday to share the title. Should WSU and Creighton tie, Creighton wins the tiebreaker for the top seed because of its edge in non-conference strength of schedule. The Bluejays jumped ahead of WSU in that tiebreaker after Saturday’s loss to Saint Mary’s. They rank No. 48, according to ESPN.com, while WSU is at No. 72. If both teams lose Wednesday, third-place Northern Iowa (17-12, 10-6) enters the title picture.
Should the Shockers handle Evansville (15-13, 8-8), they won’t be in the mood to share the MVC title with the Bluejays, their biggest rival and the preseason favorite.
“In our eyes, we’re trying to . . .outright win it,” Williams said. “We still have to go up to Creighton and win.”
WSU, which last won back-to-back MVC titles in 1964 and 1965, is recovered from a three-game losing streak. It won its fifth straight game on Saturday, defeating Detroit 94-79 on Saturday in a BracketBusters game at Koch Arena. Evansville handed WSU its first MVC defeat, 71-67 on Jan. 13 at Evansville. The return to MVC play will feature fewer fastbreaks and more defense.
“I know it’s going to be total opposite when (coach Marty Simmons) and the Aces come in here on Wednesday and it will ‘Rock Em, Sock Em Robots,’” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said.
Saturday’s win boosted WSU’s power ranking (RPI) to No. 30, which keeps its NCAA Tournament resume in excellent shape. Marshall will remember BracketBusters games fondly, despite a tough loss to VCU in 2011. Last season, WSU won at Davidson in a game Marshall believes solidified its NCAA spot. Beating Detroit (which entered the game No. 62 in the RPI) gave Marshall a similar boost of confidence.
“If we’re not in, we’re closing in on an NCAA Tournament bid,” he said. “It’s a top-100 win. They have a great shot of winning their league.”