▪ Circumstances seem to favor Wichita State in this game, if you can ignore home-court advantage and the fact Evansville is an experienced, talented team playing its biggest game in years.
The Shockers have played three of their past four at home, so they’ve basically been sleeping in their own beds since Jan. 14. In those four games, only Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet played more than 30 minutes, and that was Jan. 20 at Northern Iowa. The past two games were low-stress, low-mileage affairs for everybody.
Evansville has played three of the past four on the road, including last Sunday’s loss at Indiana State and Thursday’s overtime win at Southern Illinois. At Indiana State, Adam Wing (35), D.J. Balentine (38) and Egidijus Mockevicius (37) played 30-plus. At SIU, Jaylon Brown (42), Mislav Brzoja (37), Wing (43), Balentine (45) and Mockevicius (43) again did heavy duty.
The Shockers are much deeper and get the benefit of an extra day of rest. The Aces are used to these heavy minutes. It is what they do and they do it well.
WSU will work to get into Evansville’s legs with presses and its usual hard work. If this game is close, it will be surprising if the Shockers aren’t at least a half-step faster in the final minutes.
▪ Mockevicius, as the Shockers showed in the first meeting, isn’t great defending outside the lane. Anton Grady scored 17 points in that game off the pick-and-pop because Mockevicius lost him. Mockevicius can’t foul, because the Aces don’t have a backup, which puts him in a bind. It’s hard for him to aggressively defend Fred VanVleet in the ball screen because of foul potential. If he doesn’t, VanVleet gets lots of room to motor.
▪ It’s good to see Evansville excited about the Aces. Downtown is crawling with fans and the Ford Center will be packed.
Evansville, like many MVC programs, has recently dormant potential.
▪ The Aces aren’t an NCAA at-large team. They could pop into the discussion with a win.
With no top-50 wins and a 2-3 record vs. the top 100, it will be hard to convince the selection committee. Ten games against teams ranked 201 or worse doesn’t help.
WSU could also use a resume-builder. Evansville is the best team remaining on the schedule.
Announcers: Mitch Holthus, Mark Adams