NORMAL, Ill. — In the off-season, the Wichita State Shockers made the move from the Missouri Valley Conference to the American Athletic Conference.
The move added stiffer competition for the Shockers and bolstered the talent level of the AAC as a conference. At the same time, it opened up the Missouri Valley Conference and made the race for the league title much more exciting than in year’s past.
The Missouri State Bears came into the season as the preseason favourites, and have lived up to the bill through three games. Coming into Sunday’s contest against the Illinois State Redbirds, the Bears are one of just two teams who are still undefeated in Missouri Valley Conference play, along with the Drake Bulldogs (4-0).
Missouri State has won four straight games, and will be looking to move to 4-0 in conference play. The Redbirds won’t make things easy, as they are coming off a loss that ended their own four-game winning streak. On their home floor, Illinois State will be looking to start a new winning streak at the expense of the Bears.
ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Seven days ago Dequon Miller forecasted the future. He knew his final Arch Madness would be special.
“Our run is coming at Arch Madness.”
In six words, he gave a personal warning to the whole Missouri Valley Conference. And, now, nationally ranked Wichita State will be his and the Missouri State Bears‘ next victim.
What makes me so sure? There are four reasons the Shockers will lose in the semi-finals for a third consecutive season.
From the days of Toure’ Murry and Garrett Stutz to Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker, Gregg Marshall’s Wichita State have won Arch Madness just once in the past seven years.
Regardless of possessing a two seed or higher, Wichita State has failed to play on Sunday five times. These squads have possessed some of the best “The Valley” had to offer. Six different Shockers have earned All-MVC first team honors over the tenure, including the latest duo of VanVleet and Baker being named a top-five player three consecutive years.
Though, just one championship was won (2014).
Illinois State, the current top-seed at Arch Madness, has “upset” Wichita State three of the six seasons while Northern Iowa, Creighton, and Indiana State each downed the notorious once.
Yes, the one team that hasn’t is Missouri State. Though, it just takes one time to “Shock the World.”
After all, two of the five semi-final teams to defeat Wichita State have etched their names into the field of 68 the day after.
If I have said it once, I have said it four million teams: Missouri State has GREAT depth.
Even without junior guard Ronnie Rousseau III (11.6 PPG), the Bears have eight players who average over five points per game. The group is led by All-MVC first teamer Alize Johnson, who has recorded 17 double-doubles on the season and is averaging a double-double, and stat-stuffer Dequon Miller. Yet, the x-factors are Jarred Dixon, Jarrid Rhodes, and Obediah Church. All three had their fingerprints on last night’s 70-64 victory over Northern Iowa (which was UNI’s first loss in St. Louis since 2014).
Church, an All-Defensive team selection, anchored the defense and grabbed 11 rebounds going against Panthers’ juniors Bennett Koch and Klint Carlson. Rhodes, although he only scored five points, grabbed four rebounds in 15 minutes while helping the Bears to a positive five in plus/minus.
Dixon’s impact could not have been more important. He was 10-of-10 in free throws, six of which came in the final 46 seconds. Ironically, it was only the sophomore’s FIRST game at Scottrade Center (he missed last year’s tournament due to injury).
Church, Rhodes, and Dixon will have to play tremendously to send the Bears to their first Arch Madness championship since 2011. Yet, their play is as crucial as a trio of seasoned sharpshooters.
42.4 percent, 36.4 percent, and 32.1 percent; these are the three-point shooting percentages of Ryan Kreklow, Austin Ruder, and Chris Kendrix.
The trio only combines for 17 of Missouri State’s 73 points per contest; however, one triple can sway momentum as a right hand to the temple.
All three have started games for head coach Paul Lusk. In fact, a combined 103 games have been started by the assassins. Moreover, their points per game averages are the lowest it has been in their respective college careers.
With the depth and unselfish nature of Missouri State basketball, neither Kreklow, Ruder, nor Kendrix needs to produce ten points a night. However, this season each have had outbursts of 15+ plus points. All are extremely capable, and today will be the day that they let the nation know they are high-level marksmen from downtown.
4. THE Dynamic Duo
Argue with me if you prefer, but the best guard/big man duo in the Missouri Valley Conference is none other than Dequon Miller and Alize Johnson.
Responsible for 30.5 points during conference play, Miller and Johnson are the second highest scoring two-man tandem behind Loyola’s Milton Doyle and Donte Ingram.
Johnson, individually, has had SEVEN double-doubles featuring 15 or more rebounds. In other words, Johnson may be the most valuable big man since Northern Iowa’s Seth Tuttle (and we all remember how he guided the Panthers to an Arch Madness championship in 2015).
On the other hand, Miller, when shooting more than 10 times in a game is lethally productive with 15.4 points per game.
In fact, when comparing the Charleston, West Virginia, product’s senior MVC season to Wichita State legend Fred VanVleet, Miller is averaging two more points per game (14.9 > 12.6). Yes, VanVleet had nearly three more assists per contest (6.4 > 3.5), but his scoring prowess in nowhere close to the Bears’ two-year star.
Miller and Johnson will have outstanding games this afternoon at Scottrade Center.
— Missouri State 67, Wichita State 63
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