Before Wichita State can concentrate on making a run toward a national championship, its focus must remain on taking care of matters within the Missouri Valley Conference.
Looking to stay undefeated, the visiting No. 3 Shockers can secure a share of the MVC regular-season title and the top seed in the upcoming league tournament by handing Loyola of Chicago its third consecutive defeat Wednesday night.Wichita State (27-0, 14-0) became one of 21 teams in NCAA history to win its first 27 games with an 84-68 victory at Evansville on Sunday. Ron Baker had a career-high 26 points and Fred VanVleet added 18 as the Shockers overcame 51.1 percent shooting from the Aces by outscoring them 23-2 off turnovers and recording 14 steals.They also improved to 14-0 in the MVC for the first time in school history."If you're going to beat teams like Wichita State, you can't make mistakes," said Evansville coach Marty Simmons, whose team committed 18 turnovers.The Shockers have forced 31 turnovers in the last two games after their previous three opponents committed 28."We wanted to extend (Evansville), get their timing disrupted. I don't think we expected that many steals," said VanVleet, who has eight steals in the last two contests. "There were only a few times where we had breakdowns where we weren't really where we were supposed to be."Joining Syracuse as the nation's only remaining undefeated teams in Division I, Wichita State appears poised to make another deep NCAA tournament run after reaching the national semifinals last season. However, its first concern is sewing up an eighth regular-season MVC title.The Shockers own a three-game lead over second-place Indiana State and have already swept the season series with the Sycamores.Baker has totaled 45 points on 17-of-29 shooting, including 6 of 14 from 3-point range, in the last two games and recorded five steals Sunday. VanVleet had been held below his 11.9 scoring average in five of the previous seven games, but hit half of his 10 shots and added eight assists against the Aces.The Shockers will look for a more complete effort this time than in their 57-45 win over Loyola (9-17, 4-10) on Jan. 28. Wichita State went 13 of 26 from the field in the first half then 6 of 26 in the second, but held the Ramblers to 35.3 percent shooting and outrebounded them 44-28.Averaging 18.0 points over the last eight games, senior Cleanthony Early was the only Shocker in double figures with 23 in that contest.Loyola has struggled during its first season in the Valley, and has lost 12 of 16 overall. After shooting 54.9 percent during a 79-69 home win over Illinois State on Feb. 9, the Ramblers shot 40.2 percent while losing at Northern Iowa and Drake last week by a combined 30 points.Averaging a team-leading 15.8 points, freshman guard Milton Doyle bounced back from a two-point performance against Northern Iowa by scoring 16 and pulling down a season-high 10 boards in Saturday's 70-62 loss to Drake. He scored 16 and was the only Rambler in double figures at Wichita State last month.