Wichita State dismantled Missouri State with such ease Saturday, it left some wondering if the 67-42 victory was the Shockers’ best of the season.
Hey, this was game No. 33 – as in 33-0.
“I don’t know about best game,” point guard Fred VanVleet said. “I think we had a really good defensive effort.
“But playing over 30 games, I can’t remember which one was our best game. But if you think so, then OK.”
Forward Cleanthony Early told reporters, “Best game? I think that’s on you guys to decide. I don’t really look back trying to remember our best game, but I guess we were pretty good.”
Still in the mix — Early is one of 15 finalists for the Wooden Award, a player of the year honor announced April 4.
Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins and Creighton’s Doug McDermott are also on the list. Duke freshman Jabari Parker and Kentucky freshman Julius Randle made the cut, as did Syracuse’s Tyler Ennis and C.J. Fair.
On the last day — WSU will play in the championship game for the sixth time. It won in 1985 and 1987 and lost in 1981, 2010 and 2013.
The No. 1 seed advanced to the title game for the 25th time, including seven of the past eight years. Top seeds are 75-23 in the tournament, which started in 1977.
WSU won both of its titles at Tulsa. In 1985, it defeated the Hurricane 84-82 with Xavier McDaniel scoring 34 points. In 1987, Gary Cundiff made 6 of 7 shots to score 17 points in a 79-74 overtime victory.
Loyola’s mission clear — Loyola’s first tour through the MVC ended with Friday’s 75-62 loss to Indiana State. Twenty games against MVC competition taught the Ramblers they need to grow bigger and stronger before next season.
The Horizon League, Loyola’s former home, isn’t miles behind the Valley (the MVC went 4-3 against the Horizon this season). The Valley is an upgrade and the Loyola players noticed.
“We weren’t as physical as the rest of the Missouri Valley was,” Ramblers junior Christian Thomas said. “And just because this was our first year, we had no way of really gauging that ourselves, and I think that now we have a first-hand experience of what it’s like but we also see what we need to do.”
The Ramblers have two players taller than 6-foot-8 and neither plays much. Their post men should be forwards and their power forwards should be guarding smaller players. It’s a common problem for lower-level teams in the MVC and one the Ramblers need to address as one of the conference’s weaker rebounding teams. Sophomore post player Nick Osborne, 6-8, fouled out four times battling bigger players. Thomas, playing power forward at 6-5, averaged 13.3 points and 6.2 rebounds.
“That’s going to motivate them in the off-season,” Ramblers coach Porter Moser said. “It’s always been a league of fifth-year seniors, four-year guys, guys that get better and that’s what we’ve got to be.”
The 10th-seeded Ramblers finished 10-22, 4-14 in the MVC and 0-9 in conference road games.
A team that relies heavily and freshmen and sophomores did enjoy moments it can lean on. Loyola blew out fourth-seeded Missouri State 89-57 in its first MVC home game. It beat third-seeded Northern Iowa and fifth-seeded Illinois State at home. Thursday’s win over Bradley provided a real taste of the tournament instead of heading home Thursday night. Guard Milton Doyle, the MVC’s Newcomer and Freshman of the Year, made the play of the weekend with a game-winning three against the Braves.
“Our goal is not to be playing on Thursday night and win one game,” Moser said. “We want to be playing on Sunday. And now we went through it, and now they got a feel; they got a visualization of what this league is about, what this road is about.”
Pay up, please — Scalpers outside Scottrade Center love the Shockers.
“When Wichita is playing, it’s good,” one said. “When they leave, half the tournament leaves.”
Front-row tickets, in between the baselines, went for $100 a seat for Saturday’s games.
Cordial conversation — WSU senior associate athletic director Darron Boatright offered a passionate — and briefly profane — defense of WSU’s schedule to CBSSports.com columnist Gregg Doyel.
“Think about this,” Boatright told Doyel late last week. “You’re on the phone with Wichita State, and we’re contemplating whether we scheduled incorrectly because we got a two-seed and not a one. Think about that. Even if we do get a No. 2 seed, would we re-evaluate how we do our schedule? Absolutely not.”
Doyel described Boatright as mildly agitated and exasperated with the line of questioning. Boatright, on Friday, described the conversation as cordial and friendly.
No need to lump Doyel on the enemies of the program list with Doug Gottlieb of CBS Sports.
On the call — Kevin Harlan and Dan Bonner will call the game for CBS on Sunday.
Big brother is watching — Wichita State forward Nick Wiggins got a text right before he shut his phone off on Saturday to get ready for the Shockers’ MVC semifinal game against Missouri State.
“It was something like, ‘Your little brother is going off right now,’ ” Wiggins said. “I didn’t know how much until I got back in the locker room.”
After WSU’s 67-42 win, with phones turned back on, the news quickly spread in the Shocker locker room about how much Wiggins’ younger brother, freshman Kansas forward Andrew Wiggins, had gone off.
“Andrew scored 41 points and had eight rebounds,” WSU forward Chadrack Lufile announced to the locker room. “Against West Virginia.”
Andrew’s big day came in a 92-86 loss, adding five steals and four blocks for good measure.
“I’m always paying attention,” Nick said. “That’s what (Andrew) is capable of. I feel like he’s just starting to come into his own.”
Post presence — The Shockers didn’t need their three post players to do much offensively on Saturday as WSU rained down threes on Missouri State, hitting eight in the first half in a blowout win.
What they did need Kadeem Coleby, Chadrack Lufile and Darius Carter to do was play defense, and they did it well. The trio held 6-foot-11 Missouri State center Tyler McCullough to two points and zero rebounds, and star forward Jarmar Gulley had five points and two rebounds.
“When we’re all on the same page, physically we can wear people down,” Coleby said. “It doesn’t matter who starts, we’re all coming at you.”
Coleby started his second game in a row, while Lufile came off the bench for eight points and six rebounds, his second big offensive game in a row after scoring 11 points in Friday’s win over Evansville.
“I feel like the three of us have come together over the season to work as one, and that’s a tribute to the team,” Carter said. “Most important thing is we play defense. We want to score, but defense always needs to be our main objective.”
New anthem — The Wichita State band debuted a new song for the postseason at the MVC Tournament, compliments of band director Michael Berryhill.
Berryhill’s inspiration was the uber-popular “War” that became the Shockers’ postseason anthem in their run to the Final Four last season.
“I was so impressed with what that song did, and it’s still our staple, that I wanted to take my turn and do something a little different,” Berryhill said. “Something that applied to this season and this team, just like ‘War’ did.”
The new song Berryhill put together is a take on the southern band classic “Neck” – changed to fit WSU.
The lyrics to “Neck” are simple: “Heyyyyy yooooo/talkin’ out the side of your neck.”
The lyrics to the Shocker version: “Heyyyyy yooooo/Shockers gonna shock you again.”
Repeat it twice, put some fancy band backing and there you go.
“I’m a southern guy, graduated from Mississippi State, so I’m really familiar with the song and wanted to do something with it,” Berryhill said. “So I did the arrangement and the lyrics to fit the team this year. Seems like there’s always doubters, even with how well they’ve played. So they’re gonna shock you again.”