It appears the Missouri Valley Conference is out of dangers to throw at Wichita State. Last week’s Indiana State-Northern Iowa road swing offered one last chance for nine downtrodden teams to rise up against the fourth-ranked Shockers.
If not then, when?
The Shockers (25-0, 12-0 MVC) won both games to build a three-game lead with six to play in the MVC. The remaining schedule features one team with a winning record and WSU gets Missouri State (16-8) at home. Southern Illinois (10-15) has won four in a row entering Tuesday’s game at Koch Arena.
Those games and trips to Evansville, Loyola and Bradley are all that stand between the Shockers and an unbeaten regular season. They’ve handled record crowds at almost every stop. They trailed by 19 points with 11:48 to play at Missouri State and won in overtime. The trips to second-place Indiana State and UNI loomed as the logical places for WSU to stumble.
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“It’s always good to win on the road, and it’s especially hard here,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “Everyone had talked about this week. These two teams were, preseason, highly rated and they’re historically very, very good, especially at home.”
WSU’s run at history looks more like reality after last week.
• It is the 27th team in NCAA history to go 25-0.
• It is the first team to go 25-0 since Memphis started 26-0 in 2007-08.
• Its 25-game win streak is the MVC’s third-best.
The Shockers ramped up their chase to match:
• 2004 Saint Joseph’s (27-0) as the last team to finish the regular season unbeaten. The Hawks lost in their conference tournament.
• 1991 UNLV, 30-0 before opening the NCAA Tournament.
• 1985-86 Bradley, the last MVC team perfect (16-0) in conference play.
• 1978-79 Indiana State, which went 33-0 before losing in the NCAA title game.
And, why not?
• 1976 Indiana, the last unbeaten (32-0) to win the NCAA title.
Post-game news conferences follow the same routine. The opposing coach offers effusive praise for the Shockers and admits that if there’s a way to beat the Shockers, it’s not easy to find. On Friday, Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson discussed a starting point, which means making the Shockers uncomfortable and disrupting their offensive flow and defensive concentration.
“I haven’t see anybody do it yet and it’s getting pretty late in the season,” he said. “Just knock them out of rhythm on offense, or even on the defensive end. You’ve got to find something where you can get to them a few times in a row with your offense. They’ve shown to this point that it doesn’t happen.”
Nothing happened to lessen Jacobson’s appreciation for the Shockers. A crowd of 7,150, third-largest in the McLeod Center’s eight-season history didn’t rattle them. Northern Iowa kept the rebound battle close in the first half, made 9 of 23 three-pointers and forced 15 WSU turnovers.
Not enough. The Shockers led by nine or more points the final 5:55, pushing it to 16 in the final 2:36.
WSU is playing with a confidence raised during last season’s NCAA Tournament and grown this season by building on successes.
“You have to have really good players, and they do have them,” Jacobson said. “You’ve got to be well-coached, and they are that. When you combine high-level effort with those things, you’ve got a nice basketball team.”
WSU’s effort never fails to make a big impression. The Shockers out-rebounded UNI 40-24. Their consistency is just as impressive.
“They play every possession perfectly,” UNI center Seth Tuttle said. “You’re going to get a well-executed set every single time. They’re going to defend well every time. Sooner or later, they’re going to get on a run.”
The Shockers are on quite a run now, one that started last March. With this two-game trip in the books, the run may not stop until …