A win and a push yesterday keeps the mini run going to Wednesday where there is an unusually awesome slate of college hoops on the docket for our enjoyment. And while people will rightfully hype up Duke at Wisconsin, one of the best games of the regular season really and truly may be out in Salt Lake City, where the Shockers of Wichita State come in to play the Utes in a battle of ranked mid-majors.
For Wichita State, a year removed from a perfect 35-0 regular season, this game represents the first time it will be underdogs in over a full year. The Shockers went to Saint Louis on December 1 of 2013 as 3.5-point ‘dogs and left with a victory of course. Now 367 days later, WSU goes to the Huntsman Center to take on a Utah team that remains ranked despite a loss already – not something Ute fans are used to. The loss was quite forgivable – by just four points at San Diego State. The Utah fan base appears invested in this unit early on in the season for good reason. The Fightin’ Utes are 2.5-point favorites over the mighty Shockers Wednesday night in the only three-word US capital city.
I am a pretty big Wichita State homer. I’ve followed the Missouri Valley for the last few seasons and immediately became partial to both Creighton and WSU. And that slight bias has helped me make a lot more correct predictions than wrong ones in the last couple seasons. Gregg Marshall and his Shocker teams have been awesome and I don’t think this year will be much of an exception. Wichita State is ranked 8th in the country and has as good a backcourt as any team out there. But quality big men that rotate in and out of the game has been a hallmark of the Shockers through the 2000’s. And that’s the one spot where this year’s team might come up just a bit short. Darius Carter is the one dependable big man that Gregg Marshall has depended on early on in the year. And other than that, he is still searching for what bigs can spell his 6’7″ senior. Shaquille Morris has shown some promise as a freshman and Tom Wamukota from Kenya has started to see the floor some more. But the race is very much wide open.
No matter what happens in the post, WSU still has Fred Van Vleet, Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton, which means it will play with anyone, especially early in the season. These three have such great chemistry together that Wichita State has the advantage of not only playing cohesively in December, but can play nearly any style. They’re simply my favorite backcourt in college basketball and it’s not close.
That said, I think I’ll go the other direction with this play. I don’t know very much about Utah so I’m hype to watch the game tomorrow. But I’m going to fade WSU for a few reasons. I’m not sure the Shockers will dig quite as deeply as they did in the regular season last year because they’ve done the whole undefeated thing. Instead, Gregg Marshall and his floor generals (Van Vleet and Baker) are focused on the big picture. And a loss in Utah doesn’t necessarily do much to hurt that. Meanwhile, playing at Utah is nearly as tough as it gets. And it looks like the Runnin’ Utes are for real this year. Not many teams can play SDSU that tough in Viejas Arena. I’ll play the Utes to cover the small number. Enjoy this one!
Free Pick: Utah -2.5
2014 CBB: 4-3-1 1.70