▪ From Clevin Hannah to Joe Ragland to Malcolm Armstead to Fred VanVleet, Wichita State long started each game with the knowledge it stood even, at worst, or better most times than its Missouri Valley Conference opponent at point guard.
Tonight is different, facing Illinois State’s Paris Lee. WSU’s guards are capable of playing well, but there’s no guarantee can it win that position.
Lee averages 13.2 points and 5.2 assists and shoots 46.7 percent from three-point range. He possesses that Fred VanVleet-like abilility to snatch the ball from big men who aren’t careful.
ESPN’s Marks Adams frames this as a match-up between Lee and WSU’s four players who all do point-guard things — Daishon Smith, Conner Frankamp, Landry Shamet and Austin Reaves.
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Adams considers Lee an MVC Player of the Year candidate.
“You’ve got Paris Lee, who’s a great assists guy, steals guy, and has dramatically improved his three-point shot,” Adams said. “You’ve got one great point guard against four guys that represent a differentiated product in college basketball.”
▪ Adams’ affection for former Shockers Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker was well-known.
He keeps in touch with both. VanVleet’s helped him prepare for TV broadcasts with text messages that scout a player he’s familiar with.
It’s not a knock on last season’s team for Adams to say he enjoys watching these Shockers play offense. Moving the ball and spacing the floor is the hallmark of this team.
“They’ve changed radically on offense and I really like it,” he said. “This team has diverse weapons to use offensively. I love watching this team offensively, much more than last year’s team. As a former coach, it’s a lot more fun to watch.”
▪ Illinois State is a strong defensive team and gave WSU problems last season. The Shockers made 12 of 54 three-pointers in two meetings last season.
The Shockers lost at Redbird Arena and won at home, because it won the hustle and effort categories in the rematch. WSU out-rebounded Illinois State by seven at home and forced 17 turnovers.
That is where Adams sees this game unfolding.
“Who can play the most physical and get away with it?” Adams said. “Loose balls, second-chance points, points off turnovers. I’m going to watch the officiating as closely as I will anything else.”
In the past five meetings, the Shockers are 26 of 103 (25.2 percent) from three-point range against Illinois State.
▪ I watched Illinois State’s 60-53 win over Southern Illinois. The Redbirds played OK defensively in the first half, but kind of indifferent.
They picked it up in the second half, with Lee playing a major role, and held the Salukis to 5-of-27 shooting in a 20-point half.
SIU got few good looks and wore down against Illinois State’s effort.
▪ It’s already been an interesting trip for the Shockers.
The threat of bad weather caused them to plan to bus to Evansville on Sunday, in case the plane can’t get out of Normal on Saturday night.
Some of the fans who planned to fly with the team stayed home because of the possibility of the extended stay.
On Saturday morning, a 7:30 a.m. fire alarm woke the Shockers up at their hotel a few minutes earlier than needed.
Saturday morning’s shoot-around ended with Illinois State’s players watching the final three or four minutes, clapping and laughing, while the Shockers were on the court, from the tunnel at Redbird Arena.
WSU director of operations Dominic Okon threw up a stop sign as the Redbirds walked down the tunnel toward the court, which may have been the only thing that kept the game from tipping early.
It was an unusual scene.
Shoot-arounds are private events (unless you carry a tool-belt and coaxial cable). I’ve seen players, coaches and administrators go to great lengths to avoid walking in an arena when the opponent is practicing. I’ve never seen another team pop in like that. Neither had Adams.
WSU thought it had the court from 9-10 a.m. Illinois State’s spokesperson said the team thought WSU’s time ran from 8:45-9:45, so the Redbirds could practice at 10.
The reaction of the Shockers ranged from surprised to amused to irritated. This is an already contentious rivalry. The mix-up didn’t amount to much, other than another entertaining moment.
Wichita State at Illinois State
- When: 7 p.m. Saturday
- Where: Redbird Arena, Normal, Ill
- Records: ISU 13-4, 5-0 MVC: WSU 15-3, 5-0
- Radio: 103.7-FM
- TV: ESPN2
Wichita State (15-3, 5-0 MVC): The Valley’s previous meeting of 5-0 teams happened in 2014, when the Shockers defeated Indiana State 68-48 at Koch Arena. … McDuffie scored a career-high 26 points in Wednesday’s 87-75 win over Loyola. He averages 15.8 points in five MVC games and is shooting 61 percent from the field. He is 21 of 23 from the foul line in his past five games. … C Rauno Nurger leads the MVC in shooting percentage in conference play at 75 percent (15 of 20). … WSU lost last season’s game at Redbird Arena 58-53 after making 6 of 27 three-pointers and getting out-rebounded by 11. In the rematch, WSU won 74-58 after also making 6 of 27 threes. WSU forced 17 turnovers and grabbed 17 offensive rebounds, 11 more than the Redbirds.
Illinois State (13-4, 5-0): The Redbirds bring a six-game win streak into Saturday’s game, their longest since a 7-0 start to the 2009-10 season. … Illinois State leads the MVC in blocks at 4.3 a game. Fayne (1.2) and McIntosh (0.8) rank in the top 10. … McIntosh averages 16.4 points and 7.2 rebounds in MVC games and is 8 of 17 from three-point range. He remains susceptible to foul trouble, drawing four or more in 10 games this season, fouling out once. … F D.J. Clayton averages 6.9 points and started three games. G Keyshawn Evans averages 4.2 points and is 8 of 15 from three-point range. … The Redbirds defeated Southern Illinois on Wednesday 60-53. They held SIU to 5-of-27 shooting in the second half.
RPI rank as of Saturday: WSU 83, ISU 43