No. 3 Wichita State visits Loyola (Chicago) on Wednesday looking to continue its undefeated season. The Shockers are one of two unbeaten teams remaining in college basketball, along with No. 1 Syracuse.
The Shockers (27-0, 14-0 MVC) have been closer to losing recently, surviving close matchups its last four times out. Evansville trailed Wichita State by only five points Sunday until the Shockers pulled away in the final minutes.
Loyola (9-17, 4-10) has had a rough year, but the Ramblers’ recent stretch has been their worst of the. Although they torched Illinois State in their last home game, the Ramblers have overall lost five of their last six outings.
The losing streak began against Wichita State on Jan. 28, when the Shockers knocked off the Ramblers, 57-45.
Loyola’s chances for a monumental upset are slim to none.
Kenpom.com gives the Shockers a 92% for a victory, and overall Kenpom pegs their odds at 76.8% for finishing the regular season without a blemish.
Wichita State has three legitimate candidates for MVC Player of the Year: Cleanthony Early, Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker.
Early leads the Shockers with 16.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. The 6’8″ senior was already a key piece in Wichita State’s Final Four run last season, but he has improved tremendously into an All-American candidate. Early’s three-point shooting is up to 35.3%, and his shot selection has made him much more dangerous on offense.
VanVleet jumped for a minor contributor as a freshman to one of the Valley’s best point guards as a sophomore. He averages 11.9 points and 5.9 assists with a 52.4 effective field-goal percentage. He takes care of the ball extremely well with a 3.71 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Baker is another sophomore who has blossomed into an all-conference role. Baker averages 13.4 points and 3.1 assists, and he was the hero Sunday against Evansville with 26 points and five steals.
Add in junior guard Tekele Cotton, and you have not only the MVC’s best backcourt, but one of the best backcourts in the country. Cotton is one of the best defenders in the Valley, and he also scored 10.1 points per game.
Oh, and he can also do really awesome stuff like this posterization of Illinois State’s John Jones.
Still, counting Loyola completely out of this game before it even tips off is a mistake. The Ramblers were competitive in the second half against Wichita State in their first meeting, and they have also been a completely different team at home. Loyola has home wins against third-place Northern Iowa and Illinois State, and it nearly knocked off second-place Indiana State.
But to have any chance at ending Wichita State’s bid for perfection, the Ramblers need to be clicking for all 40 minutes.
Wednesday’s opening tip is scheduled for 7 p.m. CT.