Tuesday night wasn’t the best performance from No. 4 Wichita State. But like the previous 25 games it ended with a Shockers victory.
Wichita State trailed Southern Illinois by one at halftime, allowed too much dribble penetration on defense, shot 2-for-14 from beyond the arc in the first half and got a bad outing from starting point guard Fred Van Vleet, who struggled with foul trouble before ending the night with three points, three assists, three steals and two turnovers.
Yet the Shockers still remain unbeaten with a 78-67 win at home. As the wins pile up, the odds of a perfect season increases. Entering Tuesday, the Shockers had a 69 percent chance of running the table, according to kenpom. The three upcoming games are against the three bottom teams in the Missouri Valley Conference, and the other two games after that — Bradley and Missouri State — are against teams with a combined 12-12 conference record.
Wichita State made a run to the Final Four last year, and here’s the thing: the Shockers are better this season. The Shockers have good guard play with Van Vleet, Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton and Cleanthony Early is the top player in the conference. All of them went through last season’s Final Four run as well.
During the course of the season, they shown the ability to close out games, regardless of how it looks, including Tuesday night. Wichita State passed its toughest test with road games against Indiana State and Northern Iowa last week. The remaining schedule may be easier on paper, but go back to last Wednesday and read what Rob Dauster wrote about the Shockers after its win at Indiana State.
Every team, from here on out, will give Wichita State its best shot. A game against the Shockers is every team’s Super Bowl, and Tuesday night, that’s how Southern Illinois treated it. The undersized Salukis took a three-rebound advantage into the half, and didn’t fold once the Shockers went up nine, 57-48, in the second half.
Despite a far from perfect performance, the Shockers’ record remains unblemished against a team, who was riding a four-game winning streak, and was playing for a season-defining win. Yet, the Shockers found a way to win, one step closer to an undefeated regular season and another potential run in March.