For bubble teams this time of year means that they’ll spend a considerable amount of time scoreboard-watching, not just to keep tabs on other teams working to earn an NCAA tournament bid but also to watch conference tournaments where the NCAA tournament bids are essentially known.
Saturday afternoon Illinois State, a team that needs to win its league’s automatic bid to go to the NCAA tournament, made things a little more complicated for bubble teams across the country by knocking off No. 8 Wichita State 65-62 in a Missouri Valley semifinal. Daishon Knight was outstanding for the Redbirds, scoring 25 points on 10-for-15 shooting from the field, and his two free throws with 7.6 seconds remaining provided the final margin.
Knight scored 16 of his points in the second half, shooting 6-for-7 from the field as Dan Muller’s team erased and eight-point halftime deficit. Overall Illinois State shot better than 63 percent from the field in the second half, doing a good job of creating quality looks. Add in a 15-for-17 half from the foul line, and Illinois State was able to produce enough offense to beat one of the nation’s best defensive teams.
Gregg Marshall’s team shot 45 percent from the field but just 4-for-18 from three. How much of a concern should this be for Wichita State, especially with Ron Baker and Fred Van Vleet combining to shoot 2-for-12 from three Saturday? Not too much, as they entered the game shooting a respectable 36.6 percent from three on the season. The Shockers simply ran into an opponent in Illinois State that’s beginning to figure things out.
The Redbirds have now won six straight games, and the confidence they’re playing with on both ends (playing multiple zone defenses had an effect on Wichita State’s offense Saturday) makes this group a serious threat to grab the Missouri Valley’s automatic bid. And no bubble team wants to see that happen.