The Missouri Valley Conference has performed well across the board this postseason. Wichita State and Northern Iowa advanced to the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament, Illinois State is in the second round of the NIT, Loyola Chicago is in the CBI quarterfinals and Evansville is in the second round of the CIT.
All eyes Sunday will be on Wichita State and Northern Iowa as they compete for spots in the Sweet 16.
Here is a preview of both games, with some notes and quotes on each of them.
No. 2 Kansas vs. No. 7 Wichita, Midwest Region, 4:15 p.m. CT on CBS
How they got here:
—Wichita State struggled defending Indiana in its second round matchup. The Hoosiers shot 11-of-22 from 3-point range and led with less than 11 minutes remaining.
The Shockers used a 15-3 run to take control and finished off the Hoosiers with good free throw shooting down the stretch.
Wichita State’s starting backcourt of juniors Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker combined for 42 points, 6 assists and 7 steals. VanVleet recorded a game-high 27 points.
—Kansas had no trouble with New Mexico State in the second round. The Jayhawks took a 26-16 lead with 6:05 left in the first half and led by double digits the rest of the way.
Kansas had a balanced offensive attack.
Sophomore guard Frank Mason III led the team with 17 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists. Seven other Jayhawks scored at least 6 points.
Notes and quotes:
—The huge storyline here is that this is the first meeting between Kansas and Wichita State 1993. Here is what coaches and players had to say about the added magnitude of this game.
Wichita State guard Evan Wessel: “It’s obviously very emotional for our fans both ways, and it’s a great atmosphere for college basketball in general; and it’s great for our state in my opinion. But as far as players go, it’s a chance to go to the Sweet 16, and that’s how we’re going to treat it.”
Wichita State guard Tekele Cotton: “I’m not from Kansas, but I know that the State of Kansas has a lot of history with basketball. I mean, it’s going to be a great — like a big-time game, an epic game for the whole state, and we just want to go out there and compete and go out there and try to win the game, because we want to advance. That’s what I feel like our mindset is on.”
Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall: “I’m not going to tell you that I’m not excited about being in the third round against a wonderful program, a great team, a great coach. But when that ball is tossed, I’m just going to coach my team, and it’s going to be just like any other game, with tremendous energy and intensity.”
Kansas guard Devonte Graham: “It’s a big game for us. The State of Kansas has been kind of like anticipating this game for a while now. We just gotta get our minds right and focus on the game and what we gotta do to get the win.”
Kansas coach Bill Self: “I think there are certain games that are big, and I think this is one of those games that’s bigger. … I’m not going to sell it that way to our players or anything like that, but they get it, they know that it’s a big game; they know it’s bragging rights in the state. … It’s obviously a big game to people at Wichita because we have a lot of fans in Wichita, and of course, bragging rights and water-cooler talk and all those things. Even though that doesn’t matter, it’s something that I know it does exist.”
—Kansas forward Perry Ellis has been nursing a knee injury. The 6-foot-8 junior has played through the injury the last three games, averaging 9.0 points on 32.3 percent shooting along with 5.7 rebounds.
That’s way below his season numbers of 13.7 points and 6.8 boards per game with 45.8 percent field-goal shooting.
“My leg feels good. I would say just the key thing is just mental, it’s just a mental thing,” Ellis said. “Each day I’m getting better and better. Practice today went well. The key thing is just getting out there and just being aggressive and attacking, and I was doing that today, and I wasn’t thinking about it at all. That’s just going to be key going forward, but the knee feels great.”
—Graham, Kansas’ freshman point guard, will have his hands full with VanVleet, a junior and 2014 MVC Player of the Year.
“He’s an aggressive player,” Graham said of VanVleet. “He looks to attack and score. Every time he has the ball in his hands, he makes plays for others, and he’s a really good point guard for them.”
Graham recorded 8 points and 4 assists in his first NCAA Tournament game.
—While Graham comes off the bench and plays 17.4 minutes per game, Mason starts at point guard for the Jayhawks.
“He’s a tremendous guard,” Marshall said of Mason. “He really attacks downhill, like we’ve talked about Fred VanVleet attacking downhill. He can get you going right; he can get you going left, he can change directions. He can shoot the three, he’s a very good defender. He’s got good hands. He’s a bulldog out there and very, very talented player and kind of the straw that stirs the drink for them. Should be a great matchup.”
—Zach Brown, a 6-foot-6 freshman, has had a breakout stretch for Wichita State. The forward posted 11 points and 8 rebounds Friday against Indiana. He also had 8 points in the MVC quarterfinals against Southern Illinois.
—Kansas is not a particularly big team, but it is bigger than Wichita State. But the Shockers have a certain grit that allows them to compete with teams that have more size.
“We’re going to rely on our toughness,” Cotton said, “and we’re going to out there and just do what we gotta do and just stay on our game plan and not worry about how big they are or whatever, because we’re just as tough, and we’re going to go out there and compete. We’re not afraid of them being bigger than us.”
Self added: “They’re probably an average-size team that plays bigger than their size because they’re strong, and they’re tough. They got bodies that they can throw at you.
—Wessel and Ellis, Wichita natives, have some history as former high school teammates.
“We grew up playing against each other and like all the way back in ‘bitty’ basketball in basically the Wichita area,” Wessel said. “Times of memories when you were kids, played middle school together and high school. It’s a lot of fun, to be able to play against him tomorrow.”
—Wessel, who is 6-foot-4 and weights 218 pounds, was also offered a football scholarship at Kansas out of high school.
“I always just wanted to play basketball in college, and my heart was always with basketball,” Wessel said. “And I’m glad they offered me the opportunity, but I’m glad with my decision where I’m at and happy going forward.”
—It seems Marshall and Self do not have much of a relationship, but what relationship they do have is cordial. Both coaches said they sometimes spend time together at Final Fours. During the rest of the year, they are busy with their jobs and typically only see each other on the recruiting trail.
“I enjoy visiting with him and his company when we actually see each other,” Self said, “but we’re not exchanging Christmas cards or dinner invitations, but it’s not because I wouldn’t want to, it’s just because he’s busy, and I’m busy and that kind of stuff.”
No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 5 Northern Iowa, East Region, 8:40 p.m. CT on TBS
How they got here:
—Northern Iowa didn’t have much trouble with No. 12 seed Wyoming except for a short stretch in the second half. The Panthers led by 21 points in the second until a Cowboys spurt cut the lead to 50-43.
Northern Iowa once again pulled away down the stretch for a 71-54 win.
—Louisville went down to the wire with No. 13 UC Irvine in a 57-55 victory. The Cardinals had a foul to give leading by two points in the final seconds, and guard Terry Rozier went to commit it at halfcourt. However, the refs did not whistle a foul, and Rozier came away with a game-clinching steal.
Even if the officials had called a foul, UC Irvine would have needed a miracle shot at the buzzer to defeat Louisville.
Notes and quotes:
—Louisville coach Rick Pitino was not shy about his admiration for Northern Iowa. “This team is as good as any team we have played this year with maybe the exception of Kentucky,” he said.
The Cardinals have also faced Virginia, Duke, North Carolina, Notre Dame and Ohio State.
—Not only was Pitino saying Northern Iowa is as good as the Virginias of college basketball, but he also likened them to the Cavaliers.
Pitino said: “They trap the post like Virginia, they double the post just like him. They blitz pick and rolls just like Virginia. So, they’re just very similar in their styles and their coaches are very similar. Tony Bennett is very similar to the Northern Iowa coach. They’re both very humble personalities, tremendous coaches, and they’re just very similar in so many different ways. I don’t know if they even know each other, but they’re very similar. … This team that we will face reminds me so much of Virginia and who we have played twice. Their defense reminds me of them, their offense reminds me of them. They have six players that shoot better than 40 percent from the three-point line. They have a great inside attack. Just a wonderfully coached basketball team that I think is very deserving of their ranking.”
—Although the Cardinals wound up with a No. 4 seed, they had a down-year, at least relatively speaking. They made the 2012 Final Four, won the 2013 National Title, and last year won 31 games before falling in the Sweet 16 to eventual runner-up Kentucky.
“We’re not as good as we have been the last three years,” Pitino said. “But we’re still a pretty good basketball team. We’re not deep and we have had a lot of adversity and we have a lot of young players. But we’re still good. It wouldn’t surprise me if we made a Final Four run. It wouldn’t surprise me if we got knocked out early. So, it’s — we’re good enough to win, but we’re also — we’re not an overpowering basketball team like we have been the past three years.”
—The marquee matchup Sunday will be between Northern Iowa senior Seth Tuttle and Louisville junior Montrezl Harrell in the frontcourt.
“He’s really good. Watching him throughout the year, he’s just gotten better, too,” Tuttle said. “He’s really athletic, plays extremely hard, really physical. So he’s going to be a tough matchup.”
—If Northern Iowa wins, it will advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2010, when the Panthers upset top-seeded Kansas in the Round of 64. No one on the current team was a member of that team.
“I think that I would tell you probably the first thing is working with the guys from a mentality standpoint and an understanding that they don’t have to be like the team in 2010,” Jacobson said. “(The 2010 run) was, and is, a terrific moment for our program and it raised the bar a little bit higher. So working with our guys to understand that they have got to find a way to take ownership and do this their own way. That’s how the team in 2010 got to that point. But that can be easier said than done. … Those five (seniors), they have done a terrific job of changing some habits, getting a little more disciplined, getting a little bit tougher. And mostly as I’ve said, mostly taking ownership and doing this the way that fits them.”
—Junior guard Matt Bohannon injured his hand in the Round of 64 win against Wyoming. His status for Sunday is up in the air.
Jacobson said Bohannon went through walkthrough Saturday. If he does not play, Virginia transfer Paul Jesperson will start in his place.
—Louisville forces turnovers in 21.8 percent of its opponents possessions, good for No. 25 in the nation per kenpom.com. Starting point guard Deon Mitchell commented on the Cardinals’ defensive pressure.
“I think we just got to keep our composure and take it slow, don’t try to rush,” Mitchell said. “If we have openings, we’re going to attack. But I don’t think we’re going to try to play any different than we have been playing all year.”
Jacobson spoke about how Louisville’s creativity on defense can cause problems.
“I think it’s got to start with handling the different presses,” Jacobson said. “You’ve got to be able to — one, you got to start and get the basketball in bounds. I say that, I know how simple that maybe comes out, but they have got a couple different presses and with them they’re going to work hard to deny it sometimes. Sometimes they will trap the first pass and then other times, they’re going to let you get it in and then trap you somewhere else on the floor. So that part of it is important. … Some teams that press are not that good defensively in the half court. Louisville is. They’re terrific in the half court with their defense. They make it really hard for you to get into any kind of rhythm. So you’ve got to rely on your guys making plays.”
All quotes transcribed as ASAP Sports.