TERRE HAUTE —
Like the Death Star from the Star Wars movies, unbeaten Wichita State has moved through the Missouri Valley Conference universe with an ominous, indefatigable menace.
Few teams have challenged them. Few have even come close. Wichita State has dispatched MVC teams with an margin of victory of 15.1 points. That kind dominance would undeniably get an approving nod from Darth Vader.
The only MVC team that got within range of Wichita State was Missouri State. The Bears forced overtime when the Shockers visited JQH Arena in January, but Missouri State crashed before it could fire off a fatal shot, as the Shockers survived their attempt to blow up their undefeated season.
Is there a Luke Skywalker out there who can find Wichita State’s vulnerable spot? Will the force be with Indiana State at 8 p.m. tonight as it plays host to the No. 4 Shockers?
The truth is that the Shockers (23-0, 10-0) have more than one exhaust port which an opponent aim for. The Shockers aren’t deep and could be prone to foul trouble. The Shockers help on defense which can leave 3-point shooters open. The Shockers aren’t an outstanding shooting team (44.5 percent, 168th nationally), so in theory, you could pull them into a up-tempo game and try to out-score them.
The trick, however, is that a team has to do at least two of those three things at once to have a chance.
Not only that, but then that team also has to fight off the Shockers’ considerable strengths. Notably, their fortress-like team defense, their purposeful rebounding, their sharp-as-a-tack point guard (Fred Van Vleet), the smothering defense of off-guard Tekele Cotton, the shooting of Ron Baker and the inside punch of Cleanthony Early.
In twenty-three games, every Wichita State opponent has failed. So how can the Sycamores do it?
“They play both ends, they have great leadership and they have a great plan all of the time. They’re not going to beat themselves. We think we’re a pretty good basketball team too, but we have to do what we do a whole lot better than we did when we were there [in January],” ISU coach Greg Lansing said.
What ISU wanted to do on Jan. 18 at Wichita State’s Koch Arena was give the Shockers trouble with its outside shooting and feed the post to get the Shockers into foul trouble. Neither worked out.
ISU had open looks from 3-point range, but were ice-cold as they converted just 5 of 20 from 3-point range. ISU scored only 14 points in the paint and only got to the line four times in the first half. After a reasonable start defensively, ISU capitulated as the Shockers surged to a 28-point advantage in the second half before settling for a 68-48 victory.
ISU isn’t going to deviate too much from what it tried to do in Wichita. It just hopes to do it better on its home floor.
“They play every single possession hard. We know we can hit some of the shots we didn’t in the first game. We believe we can get into our bench and use them to wear them down,” Odum said.
ISU (17-5, 8-2) comes into the game feeling confident. Their halftime wake-up at Northern Iowa — ISU trailed by 12 early in the second half and won 87-81 — fueled the Sycamores to one of their best halves of the season.
Can it carry over? The Sycamores are sometimes prone to turning confidence into over-confidence, but they hope to maintain an even keel.
“I think it carries over a decent amount. It’s a confidence boost to do it in a game. As long as we stay aggressive on the defensive and offensive end, we should be okay,” ISU forward Justin Gant said.
ISU was hoping to have a sellout crowd tonight, but Tuesday’s heavy snow could put a damper on that. The snow has already disrupted WSU’s travel plans. The Shockers had planned to arrive in Terre Haute Tuesday evening, but couldn’t make it. At press time, their plan was to attempt to travel to Terre Haute this morning.
Either way, the Sycamores know that, crowd or not, they have to generate their own sense of urgency. Given that the Shockers are the highest-ranked opponent to ever visit Hulman Center, motivation shouldn’t be a problem.
“It needs to happen every game. With a team like this coming in? If you can’t get geeked up for that, then you shouldn’t be playing basketball. I think we’ll be ready,” Odum said.
ISU is encouraging fans attending the game to wear blue.