▪ On Thursday, Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall opened his remarks by wondering if his players would play hungry.
Odd thing to throw out for a team that is almost without exception hard-working and passionate each time out.
Those words served as both a challenge and a question.
“You have to have a mental edge,” Marshall said after Friday’s win over Bradley. “You can't go in with young people thinking it's going to be easy. It's never easy. We had beaten this (Bradley) team twice. It's hard to beat a team three times, the old cliche.”
That is the case again on Saturday against Missouri State, which lost 86-67 to the Shockers a week ago and 80-62 in early February.
The Shockers started slowly against Bradley, largely because of turnovers, before gearing up.
“He was challenging us,” sophomore Markis McDuffie said. “He wanted to see how we were going to come out and show. The first couple minutes, it didn’t look like it. We knew after the timeout we had to get it together.”
▪ Rebounding will be Marshall’s challenge point for the game against the Bears.
Missouri State out-rebounded by the Shockers by seven in the first meeting and two in the second. A week ago, the Bears grabbed 11 offensive rebounds, six by Alize Johnson. Although they scored only 10 points off those rebounds, the possessions helped MSU stay close.
Johnson is the Valley’s best rebounder and keeping him from giving his team bonus possessions is a major chore. He works hard and uses his quickness and anticipation to chase down basketballs headed toward another player.
Johnson averaged 14.5 points against the Shockers, but is 10 of 25 from the field in two games.
▪ The Shockers are 21 of 48 (43.7) percent from three-point range against the Bears this season.
Conner Frankamp is 9 of 21 in his career (four games). Landry Shamet is 7 of 12 in this season’s two games.
▪ The Bears are one of the Valley’s weakest teams defending inside the arc, allowing opponents to make 49.4 percent of their two-point shots. That ranks eighth in the MVC.
That fits in nicely with what WSU center Shaq Morris likes to do.
He saw single-coverage in the game a week ago, scored without much interference early in the game, and made 8 of 11 shots to total 20 points. In two games this season, Morris is 13 of 19 from the field against the Bears.
▪ In two meetings, the Bears have 30 turnovers and 17 assists. Twenty-one of those turnovers, however, came in the first game. The Bears must keep that number closer to nine if they want to make the Shockers work.
▪ Johnson’s pick-and-pop ability to play with point guard Dequon Miller has caused WSU to switch defensive assignments against the Bears, a tactic it rarely uses.
▪ Miller is MSU’s key ball-handler and emotional sparkplug. He will see WSU’s Zach Brown and Markis McDuffie as defenders, both with seven or eight inches on him. That’s been an effective defensive tool for the Shockers.
Miller made 7 of 13 shots in Saturday’s loss to WSU and scored 19 points. He took advantage of some switches to shoot over slower defenders.
We’ll see how the Shockers adjust. Miller is somebody who can hurt the Shockers given space to shoot.
Wichita State vs. Missouri State
When: 5:05 p.m. Saturday
Where: Scottrade Center, St. Louis
TV: CBS Sports Network
2:30 p.m. — No. 1 Illinois State vs. No. 4 Southern Illinois (CBS Sports Network)
5 p.m. — No. 2 Wichita State vs. No. 6 Missouri State (CBS Sports Network)
1 p.m. — Championship (CBS)
Wichita State (28-4): WSU plays in the semifinals for an eighth straight season, an MVC record. They are 3-4 in the previous games. It is 33-34 in the tournament, 20-24 since it moved to St. Louis in 1991. Under coach Gregg Marshall, the Shockers are 13-8 in the tournament. … WSU has won 14 straight over the Bears, the longest win streak in the series. The tournament series is tied 4-4 with Marshall at 4-0. … WSU’s 13-game win streak this season is tied for third in program history. … Shamet carries a streak of 21 games with a three-pointer. His four behind Ron Baker for second and six behind another Baker streak atop WSU’s record list. Frankamp’s streak is 18, which ranks fourth behind Shamet. … WSU’s 279 threes are a school record, 19 more than the second-place 2011 team.
MSU (17-15): The Bears are 8-7 in MVC semifinals. They last made the championship in 2011, losing to Indiana State. The Shockers eliminated the Bears in 2013 and 2014. … The Bears out-rebounded Northern Iowa 50-25, a tournament-record margin for the school. … MSU also set a school mark for three-pointers, making 262 to top the mark of 252 set in 2010.
RPI rank as of Saturday: WSU 40, MSU 210