"When you get up big, in any sport, you tend to relax".
Wichita State's Ron Baker on his Shockers first truly bad stretch of the season.
What follows is offered with the knowledge that Wichita State improved to 22-0 with a 12-point win at home last night. Risking the appearance of splitting hairs or, in the Shocker's case last night, split ends. I break down the manner in which they won, a manner that altered Gregg Marshall's practice schedule today. What was going to be a light practice will be considerably more intense, guaranteed.
When you stop to think of it, all the Shockers did against Loyola of Chicago is reverse its most common recent trend. Instead of starting slowly and finishing with a flurry, they got out quickly before limping to a close, which turned out to be a much less satisfying equation. Up 22 points with 17:05 left, the Shockers essentially put it into cruise mode, only to see the ride get bumpy. Then again, if you believe that everything happens for a reason, consider how timely the teaching moments are today what with a trip to Indiana State looming.
For the first time during this run last night, the story was more about how they played, than the result it produced. It was only a matter of time that the Shockers would reach a moment of indifference, last night happened to be it. WSU was up 22 points and in no danger of losing to a team that they knew they were better than, but that's the way it's been for much of this season. The Shockers are 9-0 in the conference winning those games by an average margin of 15 points; Missouri State is the only team to play them within single digits. My daughter, a veteran Shocker fan, describes games this year as 'exhibition-like' and there's some truth in that. Moving forward, the trick for the Shockers, at home at least, is to reinvent the challenge on a nightly basis-from half to half, heck from possession to possession. Staying sharp against lesser opponents is tough.
Of course, I say all this like a lack of focus has been an issue. Sure, it was for 17 minutes of the second-half last night, but before that Wichita State had run together four really good halves in a row. Again, please refer to the disclaimer at the top of the page.
If you don't count one desperation attempt at the end of a shot clock last night, Cleanthony Early has hit 13 of his last 21 attempts from deep. The senior is edging away with Valley Player of the Year honors averaging nearly 22 points in the last two weeks. By the way, teammate Fred Van Vleet would probably be his nearest competitor for the Larry Bird Trophy. At the halfway point of the season, I would have three Shockers all-Valley first team (Early, Van Vleet, Ron Baker). Tekele Cotton would be second team and the Valley's Defensive Player of the Year.
By the way---
Everyone's caught up in the Shocker's ranking and winning streak and its pretty heavy stuff, but Wichita State is only one game up on Indiana State in the race for the MVC regular season title. Should Indiana State beat the Shockers at an already sold out Hulman Center in Terre Haute next week, there's a good chance the two would share the conference title. Sorry for the buzz kill.
There's a lot the Shockers have to play for before they get to dance, a Valley Championship would be their second in three years (a loss at home to Evansville on Senior Night last year cost them the possibility of three straight). Going through the league unbeaten is an obvious goal, as is winning in St. Louis for the first time ever.
I'll give the Shocks a little rest tomorrow and zero in on KU's visit from Iowa State. K-State got a much needed win after consecutive losses and did someone at media day really ask Seahawks coach Pete Carroll whether Sunday's Super Bowl was a must win game?