"We're 23 and oh and we can't get a water around here?"
Wichita State's Ron Baker, tongue firmly planted in cheek, as he met the media after Saturday's 14-point win over the Aces.
"No, I'm low maintenance," said Fred Van Vleet, following Baker, when asked if he'd like a water before taking questions.
With the Final Four run, people forget what a mess Evansville nearly made of the Shocker's season last year. It was the Aces that came into town and beat WSU on a senior night when a win would have clinched no worse than a share of the Valley title. Evansville swept the season series and when they got up 15 points early yesterday-looked like they were going to make it three in a row. For whatever reason, probably that motion offense of head coach Marty Simmons, Evansville gives the Shockers fits.
This may be a team which lost three straight to Drake, Indiana State and Northern Iowa by an average margin of 24 points, but there they were. Up 15 on the Shockers yesterday 10 minutes in. Of course, WSU righted the ship, and could have ended up winning by 25, but the Aces have a star in DJ Ballentine and will be a tough out when they two meet in Evansville later this month. Remember, Gregg Marshall is just 2-4 all-time in Southern Indiana.
Dealing with Ballentine---
A glance at the box score shows the Ace's ace with 26 points, but it's when he got those points that are important. The sophomore had 14 in the first 10 minutes as UE built their lead to 15 points, but he was shutout for the last 10 minutes of the first half, which WSU closed on a 25-4 run. By the time that Ballentine scored again four and a half minutes into the second half, the Shockers were up 10 and cruising. They also kept him off the line, where he averages seven of eight. Against the Shockers he was just one of two, still he looks like the best pure scorer in the MVC. He's not going to be a lot of fun to deal with for the next couple of years.
Gregg Marshall played four guys an average of 13 minutes off the bench against Evansville and got 24 points and 11 rebounds from them, which he was pleased about. The Shockers outscored the visitors by 14 at the line, which happened to be the winning margin. The Shocks dominated the boards 40-29, 17 of their rebounds were offensive. The 67 points they gave up ties the highest regulation total in Valley play this year, the 48 percent that Evansville shot was the best by a Shocker opponent in conference play.
Both Indiana State and Northern Iowa are sellouts for WSU's games on Wednesday and Saturday. The Sycamores rallied from 10 down to win at UNI last night, but are two games back of the Shockers in second place with eight games to play, no one else in the league is closer than five games. In other words, the Shockers win on Wednesday in Terre Haute and the league race is all but done. My guarantee is that the Sycamores will play much better than in the twenty point egg they laid in Wichita, but it might not matter. If the Shockers are focused and consistent they'll win going away.
I'm not as sure in Cedar Falls where Northern Iowa can really score. I thought the Panthers would beat ISU last night; instead they fell at home for just the second time this season. Ben Jacobsen's team is a confusing study, they lost to Iowa State at home in overtime blowing a huge second half lead, they handled VCU, but haven't gained any traction in the Valley where, outside of Wichita State, their other four losses have come by an average of 4.5 points.
It's going to be an interesting week, as Wichita State and Syracuse remain as college hoops only unbeaten. Arizona's loss to Cal won't drop them below the Shocks, which I think will remain number four in the AP poll.