Shockers, back in Top 25, host Evansville in final regular-season home game
A 10-game win streak in the Missouri Valley Conference has Wichita State back into the Associated Press Top 25 basketball poll at No. 25 after more than a year out of the rankings.
The Shockers, who host Evansville on Tuesday, were previously in the poll, also at No. 25, on Feb. 5, 2016.
“It means that enough writers or coaches, whoever, think we’re a pretty good basketball team, and that’s good,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said of the ranking. “That’s a positive. I don’t see any way that can be construed as a negative. Hopefully, we can continue winning and keep moving on.”
Wichita State (25-4, 15-1 MVC) plays its final regular-season home game against the Aces, who lost to the Shockers 82-65 a month ago.
In that game, Evansville’s David Howard played only six minutes without scoring while Christian Benzon had only one point in 11 minutes. The Aces (14-15, 5-11) are utilizing Howard and Benson much more since the last meeting.
They were two key players as Evansville won four consecutive games before losing 84-72 at Bradley last Saturday.
Howard, a 6-foot-8 center, is averaging 12.6 points and 6.3 rebounds over his past eight games, a stretch in which he posted a career-high 21 points against Drake. In his first 20 games, he scored in double figures only once.
Benzon, a 6-4 guard, started the past five games and played 32 or more minutes in each. He averaged 7.4 points in those games.
“(Howard’s) been really aggressive,” Evansville coach Marty Simmons said. “He’s done a nice job of getting the ball in (good) positions. He’s a really skilled post player who can score over either shoulder.”
The newfound scoring of Howard and Benzon complements Jaylon Brown (20.3 points a game) and Ryan Taylor (14.9). Junior guard Boo Gibson also scored a career-high 27 points in a win at Southern Illinois.
Wichita State defeated Northern Iowa 73-44 on Saturday in its most recent outing. Landry Shamet and Darral Willis Jr. tied for the team lead with 14 points in the win, with Shamet making four 3-pointers to go along with four assists. Willis went 4 of 8 from the field and 6 of 7 from the line to go along with 11 rebounds in just 19 minutes.
Markis McDuffie, who leads the Shockers with an average of 11.8 points and 5.9 rebounds a game, added 12 points and seven rebounds in the rout of the Panthers.
Wichita State is scoring 81.5 points per game on 47.6 percent shooting from the field, including 39.9 percent from 3-point range.
The Shockers’ defense is a reason for their winning streak. Wichita State is holding opponents to just 62.2 points per game, the 11th-lowest total in the country, while boasting the nation’s third-lowest field-goal percentage against, holding opposition to just 37.4 percent from beyond the arc this season.
“You have to guard them,” Marshall said of Evansville, which averages 68.6 points a game but managed 74 points a game in its recent four-game win streak. “You have to respect their motion offense. If you’re not in tune and ready to guard for 30 seconds every possession, you’re going to get screened and they’re going to get a good look.
“You’ve got to anticipate how tough they are and how hard they play. They’re well-coached.”
Marshall is cautiously optimistic that J.R. Simon, one of two senior walk-ons, can play on Senior Night. Smith has been sidelined since Feb. 12 with a foot injury. The other senior walk-on is Zach Bush.
“Hopefully we can get (the two of them) some quality minutes, and they can have their final home game be a positive one,” Marshall said.
Since the NCAA cut its scholarship limit to 13 in 1993, Simon and Bush are only the third and fourth Shocker walk-ons to play all four seasons.