▪ Fred VanVleet’s three-point accuracy is moving in the right direction steadily and economically. He has taken three threes in four MVC games and made them all. Add in the George Washington game for a five-game sample and he is 6 of 10 and his season percentage is 34.8 percent (16 of 46).
“Same thing I’ve always done — just get shots up,” he said. “My confidence never wavered. I just sit back and smirk, from early on, all the talk about my numbers weren’t good. I know how much work I put in. I’ll take the total body of work any day.”
You can always break down statistics to fit a picture. Since his three-point numbers are improving, perhaps it’s safe to say he emerged from a 4-for-16 slump over four games in early December. His 2-for-10 game at Utah ruined his stats and now looks like a fluke game, where Darius Carter’s foul problems and a tough opponent forced him (and others) into unfavorable situations. Remove that one night from his stats and VanVleet is shooting 38.8 percent from three, in line with his career accuracy of 39.5 percent.
If you’re evaluating Nick Young or Josh Smith, you might not remove a 2-for-10 night. VanVleet runs in a different category.
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VanVleet’s three against Loyola came with two seconds on the shot clock and WSU up by eight with under five minutes remaining. He used a screen to shake a defender and made a confident-looking three. He built up to that shot by doing many others things well, making his four previous shots, driving to open up teammates and drawing fouls.
“I just take what the defense gives me,” he said. “I feel the game out, and if I’m feeling it and it’s feeling good, obviously I’ll be a little more aggressive. That was one of those nights.”
On Wednesday, the Wooden Award released its mid-season top 25 list. WSU’s Ron Baker is on it. VanVleet, who made the preseason list, is not. Not surprising. His shooting struggles in non-conference play made it easy for awards voters and committees to look elsewhere. He can be added later. However, a school like WSU needs overwhelming individual performances (see Doug McDermott) or historic team success (see 2014 Shockers) to muscle into national awards.
Like coach Gregg Marshall, VanVleet ultimately is comfortable judged on his record.
“I’m happy with our record,” he said. “I’m not playing terrible enough to make us lose ball games and I just focus on the wins and losses column. That’s what keeps me going.”
▪ Give Southern Illinois credit for playing representative defense under the most miserable of situations. The Salukis can’t score, which often saps a team’s energy on defense. They held Northern Iowa to 38.5 percent shooting in the first half of a 55-39 loss. They held Indiana State to 30 percent shooting in the first half of a 59-56 loss.
Both opponents shot better than 50 percent in the second half, which shows SIU is a young team that can’t sustain that effort for long periods. It is tough to keep grinding on defense when your offense doesn’t move the scoreboard. SIU will keep the pace slow against WSU and try to avoid turnovers (it ranks last in the MVC in turnover margin and assist-to-turnover ratio) and hope the Shockers shoot poorly.
Last season, SIU started 2-6 in the MVC and finished 9-9. Two seasons ago, it started 1-10 and finished 6-12. Coach Barry Hinson has shown the ability to make his team improve. It might be tougher this season with the MVC’s youngest roster.
▪ WSU’s home win streak is 25 games, fourth nationally after Duke’s loss to Miami. Gonzaga takes over the top spot with 34 straight wins, followed by Arizona at 30 and North Carolina Central at 29.
▪ This is the second 7 p.m. tip of the season for WSU. Six of its remaining games tip at 7.