One of what may be the games of the year in the Missouri Valley took place last night. And now, with one its back pocket, Wichita State gets ready for what could well be another one.
The Shockers held on to defeat upstart Evansville 67-64 at Koch Arena on Wednesday, improving to 3-0 in Valley play and dealing the Purple Aces their first conference loss and just their third loss of the season. The Shockers got their customary terrific game from Fred VanVleet (16 points, nine assists) but needed more, especially on a night when Ron Baker scored just nine points on 3-for-10 shooting and no other starter scored more than eight points.
WSU got it from Anton Grady, who scored a team-high 17 points off the bench. Many might remember Grady’s name, as he was the player who scared many when he was motionless with a head injury in Wichita State’s AdvoCare Invitational game against USC early this year. The Cleveland State transfer came back Dec. 19 in the Shockers’ overtime loss at Seton Hall and in this game played his biggest role yet, hitting 8 of 13 shots.
Evansville may well be WSU’s biggest threat in the MVC, with two of the conference’s best players in D.J. Balentine and Egidijus Mockevicius. Balentine was somewhat quiet with 14 points (6 of 17 from the field) while Mockevicius scored nine and hauled down 16 rebounds, but the Aces also have a player coming on in Jaylon Brown, who scored 18 points and is starting to give the team a third option behind its Big Two. Winning a game like this would’ve almost been a bonus for Marty Simmons’ team, but there’s no question now that his squad is ready to challenge for the league title.
As terrific as the atmosphere was for this game, if figures to be every bit as good or even better at Wichita State’s next one. The Shockers now get ready to face Southern Illinois on the road on Saturday in what is sure to be a rowdy crowd in Carbondale for the biggest game there in several years.
SIU improved to 14-2 overall with a 65-44 win at Bradley on Wednesday, and the Salukis also join WSU at 3-0 in the Valley. A team that was once a curiosity as it picked up wins against a mediocre schedule early, Southern Illinois is a ball rolling down the hill and picking up speed now, having won seven straight and defeating Northern Iowa last week. Anthony Beane (21.0 points per game) has thrust himself into candidacy for the Larry Bird Player of the Year award in the MVC for the vastly improved Salukis, and SIU Arena will be rocking the way it hasn’t in years, perhaps since College Gameday visited nearly seven years ago.
- UNLV is making news again, but not for the right reasons. The Runnin’ Rebels led by 10 with just over five minutes left but lost at Colorado State 66-65 as John Gillon made one of two free throws with 1.1 seconds left. Vegas now has lost four of five, some in painful fashion, and is squandering an excellent start to the season. Rebel starters scored just 29 points total in this one.
- Texas Tech played on the road for the first time this year, and while the Red Raiders didn’t win, they gave a very good account of themselves in a 76-69 loss at Iowa State. Tech was down just three with less than three minutes to play at Hilton Coliseum, but Matt Thomas scored 22 for the Cyclones.
- Villanova took care of Seton Hall for a 72-63 win as Daniel Ochefu was dominant-20 points, 18 rebounds.
- Duke pulled away from Wake Forest to win 91-75 in Winston-Salem. Luke Kennard is starting to heat up-23 points, and the freshman now has 17 or more in four of the Blue Devils’ last five games.
- It’s getting hard to ignore Ohio State’s improvement. The Buckeyes won again, defeating Northwestern 65-56 on the road. Kam Williams was huge off the bench with 21 points and OSU has now won seven straight since an ugly loss at Connecticut.
- Texas A&M continues to quietly plug away, improving to 12-2 with a just-get-the-job-done 61-60 win at Mississippi State. The Aggies may well be the best team in the SEC right now.
- Oregon nipped California 68-65 in another good Pac-12 game, with Chris Boucher and Tyler Dorsey combining for 35 points. Also, Stanford picked up its third consecutive win in league, winning at Oregon State 78-72.
- One is an accident, two is a trend. George Washington may soon have a problem if it continues to lose games it shouldn’t on paper. The Colonials already had a recent loss to DePaul and last night lost at Saint Louis 65-62. That would be the same Billikens who have already lost at home this year to the likes of Morehead State and Tennessee-Martin.
- A surprise result in the Mid-American Conference: Eastern Michigan shot 60% on the road in the first half at league favorite Central Michigan-and then shot even better in the second half at 72%. The Eagles finished at 66% (33 of 50) for the game in an unexpectedly easy 99-80 win over the Chippewas.
- For only the second time since 1909 and the first time since World War II, Utah and BYU will not play next year. The Utes informed the Cougars that the series will not take place next year, feeling it needs a “cooling off period” after this year’s intense game that saw a punch thrown and ejections. BYU coach Dave Rose is not happy. While Utah’s idea is reasonable, the unilateral decision without the Cougars’ input is not. If it’s such an issue as to give a break to a 100-plus year old rivalry, isn’t this something that both schools should talk out together?
- Cincinnati and SMU played a pair of grinders last year which were both won by the Bearcats. This year’s first meeting is in Dallas (7 p..m. EST, ESPN) and the Mustangs look to remain undefeated.
- Still the biggest rivalry on the West Coast, Arizona and UCLA stage their first meeting this year (9 p.m., ESPN2) in Los Angeles with the Bruins in bad need of a victory after a rough Washington trip to start Pac-12 play.
- After two games of league play there are just two teams undefeated in the CAA-Hofstra and Northeastern. The former gets a challenge when it goes to the College of Charleston, while the Huskies are at home against Delaware.
- Michigan has won six straight by an average of 31.7 points per game, including double-digit wins over Illinois and Penn State to start Big Ten play. The Wolverines could start to build some buzz if they can win at Purdue (7 p.m., ESPNU).
North Carolina State has had almost a week to stew after a home loss to Virginia Tech and now has a toughie at home against Louisville (7 p.m., ESPNU2).
- Mississippi opens its new arena, the lamely named Pavilion at Ole Miss (seriously?) by hosting Alabama (9 p.m., ESPNU).
Tennessee Tech is 2-0 in the Ohio Valley and a rather surprising 10-5 overall, and the Golden Eagles can establish themselves as a bona fide contender in the league if they can win at Murray State.
- One of the bigger games in the Sun Belt all year: preseason favorite Louisiana-Lafayette is at Arkansas-Little Rock. Fascinating matchup of big Shawn Long against the Trojans’ small-but-tough defense.
- Old Dominion had a rough run in non-conference play, but the Monarchs are a prime example of a team that could turn it around in league. They’ll take their shot at ending Louisiana Tech’s 39-game homecourt winning streak (9 p.m., CBSSN).
Finally, the Big West’s regular season champion last year takes on its tourney champ as UC Davis is at UC Irvine.
Have a terrific Thursday.