Wichita State Shockers

Wichita State needs one win to claim more MVC history

Shaq Morris predicted before the season more success was coming for WSU. “Of course, it’s not going to be the same,” he said. “But the train isn’t going to stop.”
Shaq Morris predicted before the season more success was coming for WSU. “Of course, it’s not going to be the same,” he said. “But the train isn’t going to stop.” The Wichita Eagle

Athletes and coaches always hear the whispers of doubt as full-throated insults and praise as background noise.

Regardless of how highly or poorly regarded Wichita State perceived itself before the season, the 25th-ranked Shockers are on the verge of smacking down doubters.

To be clear, they started the season receiving votes in the Associated Press Top 25 and as the strong favorite in the Missouri Valley Conference preseason poll. What the Shockers heard then and remember now are the projections of vulnerability, in a post-Baker-and-VanVleet world, after a three-season run with three regular-season MVC losses.

“Of course, it’s not going to be the same,” WSU center Shaq Morris said before the season. “But the train isn’t going to stop.”

On Saturday, WSU (26-4, 16-1) plays at Missouri State (16-14, 7-10) needing a win to clinch at least a share of its fourth consecutive MVC title. Illinois State, tied with WSU in first place, will tip off at Northern Iowa at 1 p.m., around the time the Shocker game ends.

WSU needs a win and a Redbird loss to secure the No. 1 seed in the MVC Tournament. Should WSU and Illinois State tie, the Shockers will likely play as the No. 2 seed. Since the teams split meetings, the RPI rank will determine the tiebreaker and the Redbirds enter the weekend at No. 33, nine spots in front of WSU.

A win extends WSU’s run of history atop the Valley.

▪  WSU would become the MVC’s first four-in-a-row champion since Southern Illinois from 2002-05. Cincinnati won six from 1958-63, most during the modern era.

▪  WSU’s total of 11 MVC titles would be the most among active members.

▪  Coach Gregg Marshall will become the first MVC coach in 60 years to win five regular-season titles, a stretch that started in 2012. WSU hasn’t finished lower than second since 2009.

Eddie Hickey won seven titles at Creighton and Saint Louis between 1935 and 1958. Oklahoma A&M’s Henry Iba won 14 from 1936-54.

Most important to current generation, a win makes the case the Shockers didn’t step back at all this season.

During the summer and fall, they talked about improved shooting ability, better depth and an athletic edge over the 2016 team. They got it right, especially during the current 11-game win streak which includes a 41-point win over Illinois State and more by 17 or more.

“We always heard the little, ‘You know, well, we don’t know if Wichita State is going to still be this type of team’ with the type of guys that we had leave,” Morris said. “The thing about it is, we always kept getting better.”

The Valley dominance goes a long way to repairing the damage from losses to Louisville, Michigan State and Oklahoma State. Placing Landry Shamet at point guard and Conner Frankamp at shooting guard started this finishing kick in mid-January. Morris’ health improved after a thigh injury slowed him and he is playing his best basketball, avoiding fouls and scoring efficiently. Juniors Rashard Kelly and Zach Brown settled into their defense-and-rebounding roles around the same time and are plenty productive on offense when needed.

The 11-game win streak demonstrates that with an average margin of victory of 23.4 points. The Shockers shot 50.2 percent from the field, 45.1 percent from three-point range during that stretch, wrapping it up with a 109-83 win over Evansville in which they committed a season-low three turnovers while handing out 24 assists.

WSU held those 11 opponents to 35.9-percent shooting, 27.8 from three-point range.

Now the Shockers are closing fast, still on an upward trajectory, while many other MVC teams are struggling to the finish.

Illinois State has won five in a row, the last three by one, two and four points. With forward MiKyle McIntosh recovering from knee surgery, its offense is slumping to the finish. The Redbirds endured two of their worst shooting performances (38.8 percent against Bradley and 34 percent against Southern Illinois) in the past two weeks. The past three opponents outscored Illinois State by 13 points at the foul line on 24 more attempts.

Northern Iowa lost two in a row after winning 8 of 9. Evansville won four in a row before dropping its last two.

“Pretty early on we knew that we were talented and could score the ball,” WSU senior Zach Bush said. “It’s easy to say that when it’s in pickup games and in practice, but until you really see it in games, you don’t really believe it. It’s just incredible how many times we’ve scored 80 points this year.”

Paul Suellentrop: 316-269-6760, @paulsuellentrop

No. 25 Wichita State

at Missouri State

  • When: 11 a.m. Saturday
  • Where: JQH Arena, Springfield, Mo.
  • Records: WSU 26-4, 16-1 MVC; MSU 16-14, 7-10
  • Radio: 103.7-FM
  • TV: ESPN2
  • Online: ESPN3.com

No. 25 Wichita State

at Missouri State

P

Wichita St.

Ht

Yr

Pts

Reb

F

Zach Brown

6-6

Jr.

7.7

3.2

F

Markis McDuffie

6-8

So.

11.9

5.8

C

Shaq Morris

6-8

Jr.

9.1

4.8

G

Landry Shamet

6-4

Fr.

11.0

x-3.3

G

Conner Frankamp

6-1

Jr.

8.4

x-2.8

P

MSU

Ht

Yr

Pts

Reb

F

Obediah Church

6-7

So.

6.6

5.7

F

Alize Johnson

6-9

Jr.

14.4

10.5

F

Jarrid Rhodes

6-6

Jr.

7.2

3.5

G

Jarred Dixon

6-3

So.

8.2

2.5

G

Dequon Miller

5-10

Sr.

12.9

x-3.8

x-assists

Wichita State (26-4, 16-1 MVC): WSU won the first meeting 80-62 on Feb. 9. It held the Bears to 37 percent shooting, in part by switching man-to-man defensive assignments to handle Miller and Johnson’s pick-and-pop tendencies. … Morris scored 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting in the first meeting. Backup big men Rauno Nurger (10 points) and Darral Willis (10) combined with Morris to make 13 of 21 shots. … WSU made 10 of 22 three-pointers. … The Shockers lead the series 40-30 and have won the past 13 meetings, five at JQH Arena.

MSU (16-14, 7-10): Miller missed 9 of 12 shots and scored nine points in the first meeting. Johnson went 4 for 11 from the field and scored 11. F Chris Kendrix came off the bench to score 11 points. The Bears made 7 of 11 threes in the second half and outscored WSU 41-32. … MSU lost seven games by three points or less, one behind nation-leading Mercer. Five of MSU’s close losses came in Valley play. … The Bears can finish fifth, sixth or seventh. … MSU has 253 three-pointers, a team record. They are shooting 37.1 percent behind the arc. … Miller scored a career-high 26 points in Wednesday’s loss at Bradley.

RPI rank as of Friday: WSU 42, MSU 213

Four in a row

The MVC’s four-in-a-row champions since 1945-46

Season

School

Record (MVC)

Postseason

1957-58

Cincinnati

25-3 (13-1)

1-1 in NCAA Tournament

1958-59

Cincinnati

26-4 (13-1)

Final Four (3rd place)

1959-60

Cincinnati

28-2 (13-1)

Final Four (3rd place)

1960-61

Cincinnati

27-3 (10-2)

NCAA champions

1961-62

Cincinnati

29-2 (10-2)

NCAA champions

1962-63

Cincinnati

26-2 (11-1)

NCAA runnerup

2001-02

Southern Illinois

28-8 (14-4)

Sweet 16

2002-03

Southern Illinois

24-7 (16-2)

0-1 in NCAA Tournament

2003-04

Southern Illinois

25-5 (17-1)

0-1 in NCAA Tournament

2004-05

Southern Illinois

27-8 (15-3)

1-1 in NCAA Tournament

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