Indiana St.-Wichita St. Preview
Rather than feeling the pressure, Wichita State insists that it’s enjoyed moving to the brink of matching the best start in NCAA history.
The second-ranked Shockers will try to become the second team to reach 34-0 and win the program’s first Missouri Valley Conference tournament title in 27 years on Sunday against Indiana State.
Wichita State became the third Division I team to start 33-0 or better with another decisive victory Saturday, 67-42 over Missouri State. The Shockers have won their last eight games by double digits and each of their last four by 20 or more points.
"Our motto is to ‘play angry,’" center Kadeem Coleby said. "But at the same time we’re out there on the court smiling, and we’re having fun with each other."
Cleanthony Early had 20 points and Tekele Cotton chipped in 13 on Saturday as Wichita State matched the 1978-79 Indiana State team featuring Larry Bird with its 33-0 record. Next up for the Shockers is the 34-0 mark from the 1990-91 UNLV squad, which was also the last team to head into the NCAA tournament undefeated.
Wichita State can match that record with a fourth consecutive win against the second-seeded Sycamores (23-9) and 13th in the last 15 matchups. The Shockers blew them out 68-48 at home Jan. 18 but needed a late surge for a 65-58 road win Feb. 5.
Wichita State scored seven of the final nine points in that victory. Early sparked that surge with a three-point play with a little more than a minute remaining and finished with a team-best 19 points.
Indiana State bounced back from that defeat with four wins in a row before losing its final three regular-season games. The Sycamores have regrouped in St. Louis, beating Loyola of Chicago 75-62 on Friday and Southern Illinois 62-59 in Saturday’s other semifinal.
Khristian Smith’s tip-in with eight seconds left sealed the win and leading scorer Jake Odum (13.3 ppg) had a team-best 20 points – his best scoring performance in five contests.
The 23 wins are the most for Indiana State since the Bird-led team finished 33-1 after a loss to Magic Johnson’s Michigan State in the NCAA title game.
Indiana State is making its first MVC title game appearance since winning the 2011 crown over Missouri State.
"I’ve wanted a piece of Wichita State ever since they got us at our place," Odum said. "We felt like we competed with them there. They’re a really good, in my opinion the best team in the nation, but we feel like we can compete with them.
"We know we have to make some adjustments from the first two times we played them but we’re looking forward to it. Our goal when we got here was to meet up with them in the championship."
Since winning in 1987, Wichita State has fallen twice in the championship game. It lost 68-65 to former league member Creighton last year and in 2010 to Northern Iowa.
With its first tournament title in 27 years, the Shockers will likely wrap up one of the four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament and a possible return to St. Louis for the second and third rounds.
"I want to win this tournament," coach Gregg Marshall said. "There’s special meaning to winning this tournament because chances are we could be back here in about 11 days."