Friday, March 7, 2014
Five things: Wichita State rolls vs. Aces
By Brian Bennett
ST. LOUIS -- Make it 32-0.
No. 2 Wichita State continued its flawless record into the postseason on Friday afternoon, rolling past Evansville 80-58 in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament quarterfinals at the Scottrade Center.
The Shockers are now one of only five teams in Division I history to start a season 32-0 or better, although right now they're more interested in winning their first MVC tournament title since 1987. Here are five things to know from the start of their Arch Madness run:
1. New season, same result: Wichita State players insisted during Thursday's interview sessions that they’re viewing this tournament as a new season and that their perfect regular season no longer matters. Evansville (14-19), the No. 9 seed in the field playing with nothing to lose, took a 20-19 lead in the first half. Pressure? Nah. The Shockers answered with a quick 11-3 run triggered by Cleanthony Early's four-point play. They led by 10 at halftime and methodically pulled away in the second half, much as they have all season. The Aces lost by 16 and 14 points in the two regular-season meetings between these teams. Wichita State has won its past seven games by double-digit margins.
2.Shockers put on the second-half squeeze: Gregg Marshall couldn't have been real happy with his team's defense at halftime. Evansville shot 48.1 percent in the first half, and MVC leading scorer D.J. Balentine drilled four 3s on his way to a 17-point half. The Shockers looked more like their normal selves on defense after intermission, forcing the Aces to miss 16 of their first 20 shots and limiting them to 26.7 percent for the half. Balentine sank some long-range jumpers late to finish with 31 points. The defensive play of the game actually came just before halftime, as Early chased down Evansville's Blake Simmons from behind on a fast break and swatted his layup attempt into a row of cheerleaders. Wichita State's hustle stats included nine steals and 11 blocks.
3. Does size matter? One of the major concerns for Wichita State heading into the NCAA tournament is matching up against size and length, as Marshall's team does not start a player taller than 6-foot-9. Evansville's 6-10 Egidijus Mockevicius gave the Shockers a little trouble inside on Friday. Although the Lithuanian had trouble finishing in the post, the Valley's leading rebounder pulled down a game-high 11 boards and had some good looks in the paint. Evansville battled Wichita State to a draw in the rebounding battle, only the sixth time all season the Shockers haven't outrebounded their opponent.
4. Keeping their balance: The Shockers are hard to guard because they're so balanced offensively. Four Wichita State players scored in double figures Friday, and conference player of the year Fred VanVleet added nine points. Early and Ron Baker each scored 17 as the Shockers shot 50 percent from the floor in both halves.
5. Feels like home: As if the Shockers don’t have enough advantages coming into this tournament, they should enjoy something resembling a home-court advantage in St. Louis. Nearly three-quarters of the crowd that turned out for Friday’s early session at the Scottrade Center wore yellow and black, and Wichita State fans are clogging the downtown streets and restaurants. All other fans likely will coalesce around whatever underdog the Shockers face going forward, but they still might be outnumbered in the stands.