Fifth-ranked Wichita State is showing no signs of slowing down while bringing back memories of the greatest team in Missouri Valley Conference history.
Drake, though, has been a tough place to play for the Shockers in the past.The Bulldogs have taken five of the last seven home meetings with Wichita State, which will be favored to improve to 21-0 on Saturday night.The Shockers (20-0, 7-0) can become the seventh team to open with 21 victories in the last 11 seasons. Murray State was the last to do so, starting 23-0 two seasons ago.Wichita State won 70-55 at Illinois State on Wednesday to become the second MVC team to begin with 20 victories. The 1978-79 Indiana State team led by Larry Bird that lost to Michigan State in the national championship to finish 33-1 is the other one."It's a pretty big accomplishment," guard Ron Baker said, "considering the other team to do it was Indiana State -- and who was on that team? I'm assuming it was Larry Bird, right?"Cleanthony Early scored 23 points and added 10 rebounds for his fourth double-double as he bounced back from consecutive six-point efforts.The Shockers had been getting strong scoring efforts from Fred VanVleet, who entered that contest averaging a team-high 16.3 points in conference play but was held to eight. VanVleet had six assists to one turnover and his 4.48 ratio is second in the nation.Wichita State finished with 13 turnovers after committing 11 in a sloppy first half to trail by three points."We started playing our brand of basketball," VanVleet said. "In the first half, we sometimes over-passed."The Shockers seem to get different players to contribute on a given night, and it was unheralded reserve Nick Wiggins' career-high 18 points that led them to a 75-63 victory in last season's trip to the Knapp Center.The Bulldogs (11-8, 2-5) had taken five of the previous six at home in the series, including a 93-86 triple-overtime thriller two seasons ago.Both teams feature players in their second seasons who have shown vast improvement. VanVleet has done that for the Shockers while Richard Carter has emerged as Drake's star.Carter presents a far greater challenge than he did last season when he totaled 14 points on 2-of-9 shooting as the Bulldogs dropped both meetings. He's third in the conference with 17.9 points per game.Drake snapped a five-game slide Wednesday with a 57-54 win at Southern Illinois. Aaron Hawley scored 19 points and Carter added 12 with some late heroics."Richard made three huge plays down the stretch to find a win for us," coach Ray Giacoletti told the Bulldogs' official website. "He punched the gap to get Hawley the shot, stepped up, made two free throws and got a big rebound at the other end. That's what seniors do."Drake is trying to avoid its first three-game home slide since Dec. 22, 2009-Jan. 3, 2010.These teams lead the conference in rebound margin. Wichita State is at plus-8.0 to rank in the nation's top 20 while Drake is at plus-1.8.
Wichita State leads the Missouri Valley in both offensive efficiency (114.3) and defensive efficiency (91.0). The Shockers are one of five teams (Gonzaga, Oklahoma State, Mercer and Northern Colorado) to lead their conference in both categories.
Wichita State rebounds 74% of opponents' missed shots, the best defensive-rebounding percentage in the Missouri Valley and 10th best in the nation.