Coming into this year’s college basketball season, a chunk of pundits picked Wichita State to run the table in the Missouri Valley. Many of those that didn’t thought the Shockers would lose in their toughest MVC test at Indiana State. Twenty-three games later, including 10 Valley tilts, even more are banking on one or the other.
The Shockers look to maintain an unblemished record through their toughest week from here until postseason play when they go on the road against the two next best teams in the conference this week, beginning with a game in Terre Haute tomorrow. WSU opens as a respectable 4.5-point favorite.
Projected to compete for a Tournament selection at the start of the season, Indiana State has been tough for viewers to figure out this season. Last week was no exception. The Sycamores went to Southern Illinois and got smacked by the Salukis before playing arguably their best half of basketball in the last 20 minutes in Cedar Falls last Saturday against the Panthers of Northern Iowa.
With both four juniors and four seniors, ISU has the experience to compete with a team like Wichita State. But it’s been relatively inconsistent offense that’s plagued the Trees. On paper, Indiana State looks like a strong, well-balanced offense (five players in double-figure scoring). But when matched up against the tougher defenses it’s seen all season, Jake Odum’s efficiency and effectiveness have plummeted and the rest of the offense suffers. Expected to continue to grow in his senior season, Odum has done the opposite – posting a career-low shooting percentage and only a 28 percent success rate from three. Defenses have figured out how to approach Odum and are forcing the point guard to shoot over defenders instead of giving him a lane to the basket. The strategy has rendered Odum inefficient or, like in the case of these two teams’ last game, irrelevant.
It was in that last game, a 20-point blowout at the hands of the Shockers, that Odum attempted just four field goals and made only one. The stat line is a bit surprising until considering the type of season that Fred VanVleet is having in the Missouri Valley. A candidate to be the first MVC Player of the Year not named Doug McDermott since 2011, VanVleet will likely compete with his own teammates Cleanthony Early and Ron Baker for the award. He’s also playing his way into NBA discussions in just his sophomore season – and first as the team’s starting point guard. His control of his own body and his teammate’s actions throughout the game is impressive to watch. And he will give Odum fits on both ends of the court.
Indiana State is probably the toughest team Wichita State will see from now until the Tournament but the Shockers are still the dominant side in this matchup. ISU will either need to get lots of Wichita State misses from the outside or find a way to get a couple of key Shockers in foul trouble. Gregg Marshall has undoubtedly prepped his team for the two biggest tests of the Valley season this week and it shouldn’t come as a surprise to see Wichita State make a statement in game number one Wednesday evening.
Free Pick: Wichita State -4.5