Illinois St.-Wichita St. Preview
Unbeaten Wichita State is enjoying the longest winning streak in school history thanks in large part to Fred VanVleet.
While casual fans may not recognize the name, VanVleet's game is starting to speak for itself.
VanVleet tries to lead the No. 6 Shockers to a 10th win in 11 matchups with visiting Illinois State on Wednesday night.
After opening Missouri Valley play with Thursday's 82-67 win at Southern Illinois, Wichita State (15-0, 2-0) cruised to a 67-53 victory over Northern Iowa on Sunday. VanVleet scored a career-high 22 points and Cleanthony Early added 18 as the Shockers established a school record for consecutive wins and extended the best start in team history.
"I mean, at 5-0, we were talking about it, but at this point of the season, we are just worried about these games," forward Chadrack Lufile said. "We're not comfortable at all. We know we can get better, and we know there's doubters."
Wichita State climbed two spots in the poll this week, giving the Shockers their highest regular-season AP ranking since they were No. 2 on Dec. 28, 1981.
It's been hard to find fault in VanVleet's efforts of late. The 5-foot-11 sophomore has scored 39 points in the past two games, while shooting 56.8 percent to go along with 21 assists and one turnover over the last four.
"That's as good of point guard play as I've seen in a long time, at any level," coach Gregg Marshall said.
VanVleet, third on the team with 12.4 points per game, ranks third in the country with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 4.28.
"I just have to pick my spots," VanVleet said. "I think teams respect that I like to find guys and will find guys. So that can open up lanes to drive."
The Shockers' success shouldn't come as much of a surprise to the Redbirds (8-6, 1-1), who have dropped three straight and nine of 10 in the series. Illinois State will also be going up against a Wichita State team that has won nine in a row and 40 of 42 home games against unranked foes.
"We're excited," Redbirds guard Bobby Hunter said. "I love competition and love playing in games like that, so it's going to be fun for all of us. We're just going to enjoy it."
Illinois State has won seven of nine after beating the Salukis 66-48 on Sunday. Sophomore Zach Lofton led the way with 18 points and Hunter scored 15 off the bench.
The Redbirds held Southern Illinois to a season-low 31.5 percent shooting, including 3 of 14 from 3-point range.
"We emphasized defense the whole week," said Hunter, who also had four steals. "Defense is going to win us games and that's what we strive for in our press and in our zone - create havoc and force them to make turnovers which will lead to easy buckets."
Wichita State has also thrived at the defensive end, holding opponents to 61.8 points per game to rank 24th in the country.
"To go deep and win championships, you have to rely on defense," VanVleet said.
While Illinois State was blown out 96-58 at then-No. 14 VCU on Nov. 8, it beat then-No. 25 Dayton 81-75 on Dec. 7 behind 20 points from leading scorer Daishon Knight, who averages 14.2. The Redbirds are 6-2 when he scores at least 15 points.