S. Illinois-Wichita St. Preview

Wichita State entered last year’s Missouri Valley Conference tournament garnering plenty of national attention as it tried to stay unbeaten.

The situation isn’t quite as tense in 2015 as it arrived in St. Louis with one of the same goals in mind.

The eighth-ranked Shockers begin their quest for a second straight MVC tournament championship against No. 9 seed Southern Illinois in Friday’s quarterfinals.

Wichita State (27-3) followed up a surprising run to the 2013 Final Four by winning its first 35 games of 2013-14, including three in the conference tournament.

That campaign ended with a loss to Kentucky in the round of 32 in the NCAAs, but the Shockers are in the midst of another strong season. They finished 17-1 in MVC play to earn the top seed, winning the regular-season title outright with Saturday’s 74-60 home win over then-No. 10 Northern Iowa.

"We’ve had a long year, a great, successful year," guard Fred VanVleet said. "Believe it or not, it feels like we’ve almost proven ourselves all over again, which is always fun for me. I’m really looking forward to (Friday)."

Five Shockers finished in double figures against the Panthers, marking the first time that’s happened since they beat Indiana State in last season’s MVC title game. Ron Baker had 17 points, VanVleet finished with 13 and Darius Carter, Evan Wessel and Tekele Cotton added 11 apiece.

They’ve now shifted their attention to adding another banner before hearing their name called on Selection Sunday.

"Hopefully we’re (the conference tournament) champions. That’s what you come here for. That’s what you play for," VanVleet said. "Obviously, you want to be playing good basketball, but I mean, we’re not in the business of looking ahead of anything, to be honest with you."

Coach Gregg Marshall, whose squad has won eight straight, believes his players are in the right frame of mind.

"They probably have fun in their dorm rooms or in their hotel rooms, but I don’t bother them too much in there," Marshall said. "We’re not going to do much sightseeing. The fun is winning."

The Shockers have won four straight meetings with Southern Illinois (12-20), including a 67-55 victory Jan. 14 and an 84-62 rout Feb. 17.

The Salukis ended a five-game skid with a 63-57 win over Drake on Saturday before knocking off No. 8 seed Missouri State 55-48 in Thursday’s first round.

Deion Lavender finished with 12 points against the Bears, while Anthony Beane and Sean O’Brien added 10 apiece. Beane, SIU’s leading scorer, averaged 21.0 points over his previous three.

"I told them all week long, whoever wants to be here the most, whoever wants to play Wichita State the most was going to come out on top," coach Barry Hinson said Thursday in an on-court, postgame interview. "February and March is when (Beane) plays his best. If I had to bet on anyone I’d bet on this guy."

Lavender scored 15 points in each meeting with Wichita State this season, and Beane totaled 24 while shooting 33.3 percent. Carter led the Shockers with a career-high 25 in the first matchup, while Baker and VanVleet scored 13 apiece in the second.

"I’ve always dreamed of being on a big stage," Beane said. "We’re playing a ranked team and we’re getting better each day."