Wichita State and Davidson have been recent NCAA tournament darlings, and both are trying to get back to the tournament for the first time since their magical runs.
The mid-major heavyweights try to solidify their NCAA tournament status when the 24th-ranked Shockers visit the Wildcats on Saturday in one of the marquee matchups of the BracketBusters event.
It’s the first meeting between the schools, who are in great shape heading toward the close of the season and conference tournament action. Wichita State, which made the regional semifinals in 2006, clinched a share of the Missouri Valley Conference title with a 73-58 win over Missouri State on Wednesday.
The Shockers, ranked for the first time since 2006-07, shot 59.5 percent to win for the 13th time in 14 games, with the only defeat coming 93-86 in triple overtime at Drake on Jan. 28. Wichita State (23-4) leads Creighton by two games, and either another conference win or a loss by the Bluejays gives the Shockers the outright title.
Senior Garrett Stutz had 21 points and 10 rebounds and made all four of his 3-point attempts to lead the Shockers past Missouri State. The 7-foot center had struggled earlier this season with his outside shot but has gone 6 for 6 from 3-point range in his last two games.
“People argued he shouldn’t be shooting 3s,” said coach Gregg Marshall, whose team is 8-1 on the road. “I told them it just wasn’t a big enough sample size.”
Stutz, who leads a balanced Shocker team with 14.3 points per game, is now shooting 38.5 percent from long range.
“I was awful in warmups, honestly,” he said. “I was hoping nobody was paying attention.”
Wichita State, which has won five in a row, has shot 57.7 percent from the field and 57.8 percent (31 for 54) from 3-point range over its past three games.
Davidson (20-6) has been nearly as good. The Wildcats - looking to secure an NCAA bid for the first time since Stephen Curry led them to the regional finals in 2008 - have already clinched the top spot in the South Division of the Southern Conference, and have the best record overall.
The Wildcats continued to roll with an 81-54 win over Samford on Wednesday, giving the team its sixth 20-win season in the last eight years. They used a 26-2 run to put the game away early in the first half and never led by fewer than 21 points in the second half. JP Kuhlman had 16 points and Davidson made 14 of 29 3-pointers.
Like Wichita State, Davidson has a balanced scoring attack, with five players averaging in double figures, led by De’Mon Brooks at 15.7 points per game.
The Wildcats have won 18 of their past 19 at home with the only loss coming 87-83 to Vanderbilt on Dec. 7. Davidson is 17-3 at home against nonconference opponents over the last four seasons.
This is the first time the Wildcats have hosted a ranked team since 2009, when they lost 75-63 to No. 21 Butler in a BracketBusters game.
Davidson ended a nine-game skid to Top 25 teams with an 80-74 win at then-No. 12 Kansas on Dec 19. It was the Wildcats’ first regular-season win against a ranked opponent since 1974.