Illinois State Redbirds (7-15, 6-6 MVC) at Wichita State Shockers (21-3, 12-1 MVC)
8:00 p.m. EST
Charles Koch Arena - Wichita, Kansas
TV and Online Options: WatchESPN or ESPN Full Court or MVC TV
Wichita State comes into this game as one of the top mid major teams in the country and are coming off their first NCAA tournament bid last year. In fact, they were ranked #24 in the ESPN Coaches poll last week, until an 80-71 loss to Northern Iowa this past Sunday knocked them out, but they're still 29th. They're also 27th in the AP poll.
Leading the way for the Shockers is 5'11" junior Guard/Forwad Alex Harden who is averaging 17 ppg on 51.2% shooting overall, and she's also averaging 45.2% from three (19-42 shots). Her partners in crime include junior guard Jamillah Bonner and senior forward Michelle Prices who also score a combined 24.5 ppg. The Shockers also are first in the MVC in overall field goal percentage defense, and commit the fewest turnovers per game, which are all ingredients for their success.
For Illinois State, the Redbirds have averaged over 20 wins a game in their last three seasons including two WNIT appearances in 2011 and 2013, and have been at least 12-6 in conference play. But this year, it's safe to say that they're not playing at their usual level given that four of their top five scorers are sophomores, most of whom did not have big roles last year. Even their top scorer, senior guard Chloe Nelson did not play a major role as a scorer before this season.
That said, it is a little unusual for a 7-15 team to be 6-6 in conference play. Looking at the numbers from WBBState.com, the Redbirds are eighth in the MVC for overall field goal percentage and ninth in True Shooting percentage. Then on defense they were ninth in field goal percentage defense.
But for conference games, in these same categories, the Redbirds are fifth in overall field goal and true shooting percentage, and sixth in field goal percentage defense. These statistical trends can partly explain why their conference record has been better than their non-conference record has been, and it also is a good sign to see that they have been improving overall as the season has gone on, as Illinois State has gone .500 in their last ten games.
So is this game going to be as notable as some others may be in the BCS conferences tonight? Maybe not. However, the Wichita State Shockers appear to be on an inside track to make their second straight NCAA Tournament bid and could perhaps upset another team while there. And the Illinois State Redbirds appear to be gradually getting back into form after a rough start to this season.