For some pretty obvious reasons, Wichita State point guard Fred VanVleet’s success the last two years at Loyola isn’t something his coaches or teammates really want to talk about.
“Let’s not jinx him, OK?” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said.
“You guys might stop talking about it so it doesn’t change,” WSU forward Evan Wessel said, smiling.
Their reactions are understandable — nothing irks an athlete more than talking about a hot streak. And VanVleet has been white-hot at Loyola’s Gentile Arena, less than 100 miles from his hometown of Rockford, Ill.
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In two games at Loyola, both Shocker victories, VanVleet is 11 of 11 from the field, 13 of 14 from the free-throw line and has dished out 16 assists. He’s also averaging 7.0 rebounds there.
“I don’t know what it is,” VanVleet said, knocking on the table in front of him before he spoke. “Obviously it’s good to see your family, and obviously the Loyola gym has been pretty nice to me … but now we’re talking about it so I’m pretty sure it’ll change tomorrow night.”
His teammates acknowledge a slight change in the All-American guard’s usually stoic personality when he gets close to home.
“I see him a little more excited,” WSU guard Ron Baker said. “You can tell he’s comfortable playing in front of his people, like any of us would be playing an hour away from home and in front of 20 or 30 people we grew up with.”
Nobody expects VanVleet to be perfect, and he hasn’t needed to be the way WSU (21-7, 14-2 MVC) is playing headed into Wednesday night’s game at Loyola (14-14, 7-9). The Shockers have beaten three straight opponents — New Mexico State, Missouri State and Indiana State — by 30-plus points.
Or, as Loyola coach Porter Moser put it: “They’re absolutely thumping everybody.”
And while WSU has a lot to play for — most notably an NCAA Tournament at-large bid that would likely disappear with another regular-season loss — so does Loyola.
Picked to finish fifth in the MVC’s preseason poll, Loyola started the season 0-5 in league play and has scrapped its way into a sixth-place tie with Indiana State and Missouri State. Loyola is playing to avoid Thursday’s play-in round at the MVC Tournament. Loyola has won four of its last five games, including completing a season sweep of Northern Iowa.
"I'm a big believer we have to be fighting for something. These guys have shown some grit to battle back," Moser said. "They had a choice to pack it in and fold up or keep fighting. Our arrow is pointing up."
Wichita State at Loyola
- When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
- Where: Gentile Arena, Chicago
- Records: WSU 21-7, 14-2 MVC; 14-14, 7-9
- Radio: KEYN 103.7-FM
- TV: Cox 22
Wichita State at Loyola
Wichita State: Baker has plenty of statistical milestones in his sights — two of which he might be able to hit on Wednesday against Loyola. With 13 points Baker will leapfrog Toure Murry (1,539 points) and pull into a tie with Greg Carney (1,545 points) for 10th all time on WSU’s career scoring list. Baker is also one steal way from breaking a tie with Tekele Cotton (156 steals) for fourth on WSU’s career lists and nine assists away from tying P.J. Couisnard (332 assists) for 10th on WSU’s career assists lists.
Loyola: The Ramblers are 0-5 against Wichita State since joining the Missouri Valley prior to the 2013-14 season, and have yet to play the Shockers to within single digits. Loyola has actually had its two closest games against the Shockers in Wichita, losing 58-47 last season and 57-45 two seasons ago. Loyola coach Porter Moser gutted his starting lineup earlier this season and the Ramblers’ top two scorers — Montel James (12.4 points) and Milton Doyle (11.4 points) both come off the bench.
RPIs as of Tuesday: Wichita State 46, Loyola 213