Wichita State entered the day as the No.8-ranked team in the nation, as well as one of the seven teams without a loss on the season. The Shockers remain unbeaten, in the process continuing the program’s best start after a 67-53 win over Northern Iowa in their Missouri Valley Conference home opener.
The Shockers entered the season wondering how they would fill the roles left behind by the likes of Carl Hall and point guard Malcolm Armstead. Sophomore point guard Fred VanVleet served as Armstead’s backup, seeing 16 minutes per game. This season, he’s seen double the minutes in the starting role and on Sunday he continued to remind us that he is capable of running the show, going for a career-high 22 points to go along with his six rebounds and three assists and no turnovers. Cleanthony Early added 18 points while Tekele Cotton and Ron Baker combined for 5-of-17 shooting for 13 points.
VanVleet’s performance shows just how talented and deep this roster is for Gregg Marshall. That talent, coupled with the fact that Creighton is now a member of the new Big East, has raised the question: can the Shockers run the table?
According to kenpom.com the chances are less than 10 percent.
The Missouri Valley is still a tough, physical conference as we saw in Sunday afternoon’s game with the Shockers and Panthers. Wichita State, on Wednesday, heads to Illinois State, a team that upset then-No. 25 Dayton at home. Indiana State is an experienced team with a steady point guard of its own in senior Jake Odum. The Sycamores have previously knocked off Notre Dame in South Bend and will be a difficult place to win at. As will Missouri State. As will Northern Iowa, a team that handed VCU a 77-68 loss on Dec. 14.
Marshall has been asked about his team possibly going undefeated in the regular season. His comments suggest that it’s not an important question he or his team is looking to answer. One of the questions the Shockers faced at the season was how would VanVleet handle his role in the starting lineup? VanVleet, who holds an assist-to-turnover ratio of 4.27 and has committed one in three games, proved once again on Sunday that he can for the 15-0 Shockers.
The injury Stephen Zimmerman suffered on Saturday will keep the star UNLV freshman out for at least a week, a source told NBC Sports.
The injury is not thought to be serious, however. Zimmerman may be kept out for longer as a precaution, but that’s a result of the Runnin’ Rebels being in a situation where the rest of their regular season is relatively meaningless.
They’re not getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament regardless of how they finish out league play. With back-up center Ben Carter out with a torn ACL, it’s more important to make sure that Zimmerman, who is averaging 10.6 points and 9.1 boards this season, is totally healthy for the Mountain West tournament.
That tournament, mind you, will be played at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center.
So the Runnin’ Rebels, regardless of how poor they’ve played this season, will always have a chance to land an automatic bid.
Anyway, the more interesting aspect of this story is how Zimmerman injured the knee. It was a completely avoidable play that came after the whistle, but I’m not sure it was what you would call a “dirty play”. You tell me:
With a little more than three minutes left on Monday night, No. 24 Texas held a 57-51 lead on No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman as Jordan Woodard struggled again and Buddy Hield failed to find the rhythm that he had throughout the first three months of the season.
At that point in the game, Hield was 4-for-14 from the floor with 15 points and four turnovers. He had just missed a pair of wide-open threes
“I couldn’t make a shot,” Hield said after the game. But that changed down the stretch. First, Hield finally got a three to drop. On the next possession, he got all the way to the rim and scored. On the following two possessions, he was fouled on a drive to the rim and hit four free throws. And after missing a pull-up jumper, Hield did this:
“I told coach I wanted the ball,” Hield said, “I saw Lammert coming to bite, so I pulled up.”
“It’s all money.”
Hield is already the favorite to win National Player of the Year, and this performance is only going to help his cause further. Think about it like this: Buddy was not good on Monday night, at least according to his (admittedly lofty) standards. But he still finished with 27 points and shook off a cold shooting night just in time to take over down the stretch.
Now think about this: Hield’s head coach has enough confidence in him to hand him the keys in the final minutes despite the fact that he’s struggling and on a team that has two other players that Lon Kruger trusts on game-winning possessions. Think about it. When Oklahoma beat West Virginia at the buzzer, it was Jordan Woodard that the play was drawn up for. When they beat LSU, it was Isaiah Cousins that got the rock on the final possession while Hield was used as a decoy. .
Want to talk about coaching luxuries?
Kruger has three guards that can shoot, penetrate and score, and penetrate and kick, and one of them is the National Player of the Year that doesn’t mind being used as a decoy.