After both being in action Saturday, Wichita State and Alabama get ready for a nationally televised game Tuesday night that carries with it much anticipation. The Shockers of Wichita State represent the Missouri Valley Conferences in Tuscaloosa against the Alabama Crimson Tide of the SEC. On the heels of a 10th consecutive win to start the season and a number 11 rank in the most recently released polls, Wichita State opens as three-point road favorites against the power conference.
Even before its Final Four run last year, Wichita State had earned the reputation as a nasty team playing in its own building and a mid-major power. Well, the Shockers are on the road Tuesday in a spot where many doubted Wichita in the past. The Shockers are 2-0 in true road games this season, first with a win over Tulsa followed by a resume-building win at Saint Louis on December 1 – in a spot where I confidently backed the Billikens. Greg Marshall has elevated Wichita State’s program from a feared mid-major, especially in Wichita, to a legitimate national power. And you can’t say enough about the dynamic wing combination of Ron Baker and Cleanthony Early. The two have led WSU in more than scoring, as their complete offensive skill sets allow Wichita to run much of its offense directly through either as a point forward. Keep an eye on Fred VanVleet. As always, VanVleet keys the Wichita attack as a sophomore that is just beginning to gain major experience. On the road, VanVleet’s poise is key. And the young gun plays beyond his years.
Anthony Grant’s Alabama Crimson Tide will challenge Wichita State with better athletes just about all over the floor that aren’t as quite smoothed over as Wichita State. For ‘Bama, it’s been a frustrating season – beating the teams it should beat, badly and then not able to beat any of the teams it needs to in order to prove itself Tournament worthy come March. The Tide has lost to Oklahoma, Duke, Drexel (in 3 overtimes) and South Florida, despite being very competitive in all four. Alabama’s inability to get over the hump against a quality opponent makes this matchup all the more important. Keep an eye on forward Nick Jacobs. The Alabama big is the most gifted forward in either team and has the ability to make his presence felt largely in this one. He also has a tendency to disappear or fall into foul trouble. Jacobs’ ability to stay on the floor and make his presence known against a perimeter-oriented Wichita State team becomes imperative to Alabama’s success.
I like the desperation spot for Alabama as the more athletic team playing in its own building. Haven’t had success fading Wichita State yet this year and I love the squad but I think this is where the undefeated season ends for the Shockers. If not, it becomes a distinct possibility.
Free Pick: Alabama +3