▪ Wichita State guard Fred VanVleet looked fine in this afternoon’s shoot-around. I can’t say he’s 100 percent after spraining his right ankle on Saturday, but he will play. Forward Zach Brown is traveling with the Shockers, which is progress, but his concussion will keep him out for a fourth game.
▪ According to kenpom.com, SIU is the youngest and smallest team in the MVC. It follows that its offense is a major problem. The Salukis are one of the nation’s worst shooting teams inside the arc and barely average behind the three-point line. Turnover rate is a problem. SIU’s best asset is usually rebounding, so if the Shockers can work hard on the backboards, they will rob the Salukis of an important source of points.
Darius Carter had one of his best games against SIU in Wichita. His height and experience should make him a big factor in tonight’s game. If he avoids foul trouble, the Sakukis don’t match up, especially with forward Bola Olaniyan’s time decreasing in recent games.
▪ In early January, it looked as if Wichita State’s non-conference schedule would be an asset. Seton Hall moved into the national rankings. Alabama won six in a row after losing at Koch Arena and started 2-0 in the SEC. George Washington won 10 of 11 games. Memphis, not much of a help otherwise, beat Cincinnati. Tulsa won 12 in a row and looked like a major bonus in the top 50 of the RPI.
Things started to turn in late January and now WSU’s non-conference schedule doesn’t look as strong. Seton Hall once looked like a marquee win. The Pirates are a disaster now. Alabama is going nowhere again. GW is fading. All dropped from the top 50.
While it ranks No. 23 nationally for non-conference strength of schedule (according to CBSSports.com), WSU is now 0-2 against the top 50 and 6-1 against the rest of the top 100.
The Shockers are solidly in the NCAA Tournament. There’s no debate there. But their seeding appears to be a subject of disagreement and you can expect to hear “Who did they play” arguments crop up as Selection Sunday nears.
SI.com seeds the Shockers sixth.
But Jerry Palm seeds WSU a No. 7, which means the slide to No. 8 or No. 9 is not far.
If WSU wants the cushy life of a No. 4 seed (or better) that its RPI and national ranking suggest it is a candidate for, it can’t afford an upset and it needs to beat Northern Iowa. A second loss to the Panthers seems to open the door for the committee to treat WSU shabbily.
▪ MVC beat writers enjoy SIU coach Barry Hinson because he says things like this when he doesn’t have to:
“Let me tell you why I love this kid,” Hinson said after the first meeting this season. “I shake Fred’s hand tonight. He’s smiling and he’s happy. There are other teams in this conference, including mine, that you’ve got players that are used to being the leading scorer, the best player … they get two points after a win and they’re going through the line with their head down and they’re upset. That’s the difference between that kid and most every other kid in the country.”