Gameday update: No. 21 Wichita State at Illinois State

Evan Wessel, right, could be in for another rugged battle on Saturday night when the Shockers play Illinois State.
Evan Wessel, right, could be in for another rugged battle on Saturday night when the Shockers play Illinois State. The Wichita Eagle

▪  The buzzwords around the Shockers this season (and in others) are “Playing against ourselves.”

That’s code for “We know we should win these MVC games and we need to keep getting better, regardless. We can’t measure our progress against MVC teams. We need to compare ourselves to the 2013 Final Four Shockers, the 2014 No. 1 seed and the 2015 Sweet 16 team.”

It sounds cocky when you type it out like that. When your average margin of victory is 20.4 points in conference play, no other approach makes sense.

That’s not to say WSU takes MVC opponents lightly.

In fact, one of their underrated assets is their ability to play hard and push themselves to a an A-level effort when a C would do some nights. It’s hard to think of many games the past three season when the Shockers gave what you would consider a sub-par effort.

Last season’s MVC opener at Drake (a 66-58 win) might fit. A post-UNI hangover contributed to a lackluster 62-59 win at Bradley. In 2013-14, the overtime win at Missouri State might qualify, but that was also a product of an insanely hot shooting half by the Bears.

So that’s not much. The Shockers, and of course this starts with the seniors, are so consistent that the famed “letdown” games aren’t much of a worry.

5 consecutive games with WSU leading by nine or more in the first half

12consecutive games when WSU did not trail in the second half

10 MVC games in which WSU led for 34 minutes or more

In MVC play, their biggest deficit was 11 at Missouri State, a game in which WSU trailed for 16:27.

In the other 10 MVC games, the biggest deficit is two (against Bradley and Indiana State). WSU has led wire to wire in six of the game. Its longest time trailing, other than against MSU, is 3:43 against Indiana State.

The Shockers are significantly better than these opponents. They also play as if they are not. They haven’t trailed in the second half since losing at Seton Hall — a game they led by 11 in the second half — in December.

▪  The Redbirds are scary because they an approach WSU’s size and athletic ability. And they will shoot a ton of three-pointers. If they are hot, that’s a good recipe for an upset. In Valley games, they are shooting 37.5 percent from three-point range, second in the MVC. Threes make up 39.9 percent of their shots, also second in the MVC.

Consequently, the Redbirds rarely get to the line. That’s good for WSU, which fouls a lot. Illinois State ranks last in the MVC in foul shots.

▪  The Evan Wessel-MiKyle McIntosh should be fun. McIntosh is playing well and taking a lead role in ISU’s offense. He loves to bull his way to the basket and Wessel has been successful in walling him off in the past. McIntosh, after making 8 of 40 threes last season, is 22 of 58 (37.9 percent) this season.

Guard Justin McCloud came to Illinois State with the label of a big-time shooter. He didn’t get many chances to to show it last season. He slumped early this season and is heating up. McCloud is 13 of 21 from three in the past four games.

▪  This is another remote broadcast by ESPN. Rich Hollenberg and Mark Adams will call the game from an ESPN studio.

No. 21 Wichita State at Illinois State

  • When: 9 p.m. Saturday
  • Where: Redbird Arena, Normal, Ill.
  • Records: WSU 17-5, 11-0 MVC; ISU 13-11, 7-4
  • Radio: KEYN, 103.7-FM
  • TV: ESPN2