With its dominance in the Missouri Valley Conference vanishing over the past 10 days, Wichita State may be looking forward to a break in the league schedule.
The 25th-ranked Shockers still don’t figure to have an easy time Monday night against a New Mexico State team that arrives in Kansas riding a nine-game winning streak and considerable NCAA Tournament experience.
Wichita State’s lead atop the Missouri Valley has become less comfortable with two losses in three league games, a stunning development for a program that went 35-1 in regular-season play over the previous two seasons and began this one with 11 consecutive conference wins.
Offensive inefficiency was the determining factor in both defeats. After shooting 35.2 percent and going 6 of 27 from 3-point range in a 58-53 loss at Illinois State on Feb. 6, the Shockers (18-7) were held to a season-low 30.3 percent as Northern Iowa halted the nation’s longest home winning streak at 43 games with Saturday’s 53-50 upset.
"We’ve got to bounce back and figure out ways to score and come out of the gate a little better, and hopefully get back on the winning trail," coach Gregg Marshall said.
The Shockers rallied from a 15-point deficit to tie Saturday’s game at 44 with 11:32 left, then went scoreless for the next 7:42 and missed 15 of their final 17 shots, including open 3-pointers from Ron Baker and Conner Frankamp in the final seconds.
"It’s one thing to play your best and play really good and lose. It’s another thing to not play good," guard Fred VanVleet said. "We didn’t play very well."
Wichita State’s two senior stars have been particularly off of late. After going 3 of 15 against Northern Iowa, VanVleet is averaging 7.0 points on 22.6 percent shooting over his last three. Baker, who finished 5 of 16, is averaging 9.8 in his last six after a 15.1 per game mark over the first 19.
Those struggles could continue, as New Mexico State (18-8) is limiting opponents to 36.9 percent during its streak and has yielded 55 points or less in three of its last four. The four-time defending Western Athletic Tournament champion Aggies held Chicago State to 33.3 percent in Saturday’s 69-55 win.
"I was pleased the way we played with the energy and concentration that they had," coach Marvin Menzies said.
New Mexico State is just 1-5 in non-conference games on the road, however, and was dealt a 71-54 loss in last season’s visit to Koch Arena. The Aggies are 0-7 at Wichita State since an 89-67 win in January 1977, when both were Missouri Valley members.
The Shockers scored 26 points off 20 Aggies turnovers in last season’s meeting and should have another advantage in this one. Wichita State ranks second nationally with a plus-5.2 turnover margin and New Mexico State is last in the WAC in that category at minus-3.0.
Wichita State is 14-2 when recording at least 14 takeaways. The Aggies had 17 against 4-23 Chicago State.
New Mexico State, fourth in Division I in rebounding margin at plus-11.1, does present a matchup problem in Pascal Siakam. The 6-foot-9 forward is averaging 21.7 points, 11.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocks and had 24 points on 10-of-12 shooting against Chicago State.