The road questions aren’t going to go away for this team. Wichita State reopened that door with Tuesday’s unfathomable 65-62 loss at Evansville. Coming off two good road performances – a win at Southern Illinois and a good effort in a loss at No. 24 Northern Iowa – the Shockers flopped against the Aces, who hadn’t won a game since Dec. 19.
Texas Tech won at Oklahoma on Tuesday, which, had WSU taken care of business, would have been important. If Texas Tech can move up the Big 12 standings, it helps WSU’s NCAA resume. That seems unimportant after with a loss to 290-plus RPI Evansville soiling the Shocker resume.
Now WSU has one priority - restore its confidence and rejuvenate its offense heading into the MVC Tournament. The Shockers need to keep winning to hang onto second place and give itself the best chance to play on CBS in St. Louis. And let’s not look down at our nose at the NIT. WSU raised expectations with its fine play most of the season. All along, however, the NIT looms as a solid step in the right direction for this program at this time. It will be a disappointment for some, no doubt. However, the Shockers also need to keep winning to get into the NIT and earn a better seed in that 32-team field. I would think WSU is a near-lock for the NIT, but that tournament is harder to get into than 2003 (when WSU got in with an 18-11 record).
Three items stand out after Tuesday:
- WSU needs to find out a way to score against Evansville’s man-to-man defense. In five against the Aces since coach Marty Simmons took over, the Shockers are shooting 41.8 percent (97-232) and 23.3 percent (20-86) from three-point range. They average 57.8 points, with a high of 68, while losing three of the five meetings (one to come on Feb. 17). The Aces play tough defense and in the previous two seasons had experience on their side. This season, WSU was the better, more experienced, more talented team. It can’t let Evansville’s bumping, grabbing and impeding disrupt its offense. My thought is a team must be strong enough to drive past the Aces and make them pay for being so aggressive. And you’ve got to get to the line.
- Three WSU starters are struggling to score. Center J.T. Durley, who is slowed by a sore hamstring, is averaging 8.8 points in his past five games. Without him scoring, WSU has little inside game and opponents can smother the outside shooters. Teams are increasingly finding ways to take the ball out of Clevin Hannah’s hands. Northern Iowa and Evansville, in particular, doubled Hannah to make him give up the ball and it hurts WSU’s offense. While Demetric Williams gave the Shockers a good effort on Tuesday, Hannah has to be on the floor more than 20 minutes and must be effective for WSU to win. Graham Hatch is 2 of 17 from three-point range in his past three games. Independently, WSU can survive these inconsistencies. When they all come together, it’s a big problem.
- I see a team that loses composure on occasion. WSU’s aggressive, physical defense is responsible for a 20-6 record, so let’s not get too wacky here. However, at times the Shockers are grabbing for balls and bumping people when they don’t need to due to the time and score. Hannah, in particular, must realize his importance to the team and know he has to stay on the floor.
Around the Valley
- Creighton handles Indiana State in Omaha to move one game behind WSU.
- Bradley loses an 11-point lead at home in the second half in the I-74 rivalry and loses to Illinois State. The Braves wore black, which did not impress Peoria Journal-Star sports editor Kirk Wessler. His fashion review: Minor League. More T-shirt issues from the game, this from the Redbird side. I suppose we can blame KU’s infamous “Muck Fizzou” shirts for this.
- Illinois State loves to celebrate in Carver Arena.
- Saint Louis coach Rick Majerus again screams for his school to join the MVC. He might really be politicking for charter flights, which apparently the Billikens do not use. If you’re not taking charters for at least some games, your program is wasting an enormous amount of time. It sounds like pampering wealthy coaches and coddled athletes. However, consider the amount of time wasted going to the airport, sitting around, staying in hotels, going to the airport again and sitting around some more. Teams that charter get their athletes home within a few hours after the game, so they can get to class and practice. Coaches are in the office so they can work. A commercial flight for a night game is a two- or three-day excursion with potential for delays. A charter flight can keep a team away from home around 32 hours. Wichita State typically leaves around 5 p.m. the day before a game and returns after a game, getting home by midnight-1 a.m. No lines. No security. No baggage. I’m shocked Saint Louis doesn’t use charters, at least for some games. There can’t be an easy way to get to Olean, N.Y.