Although Wichita State has already secured the top seed for next week’s Missouri Valley Conference tournament, it isn’t about to overlook its regular-season finale.
The 19th-ranked Shockers try to avenge their only loss of 2012 when they host Drake on Saturday.
Wichita State (25-4, 15-2) clinched the outright MVC regular-season title with Wednesday’s 68-55 win over Illinois State. It’s the Shockers’ first league crown since 2006.
“That was definitely important, that was our goal,” said senior guard Joe Ragland, second on the team with 13.7 points per game. “You know, this season we felt we had the talent and we stressed hard work. Our guys worked hard all summer, we believed we could win, we just had to put the work in. Glad to see the hard work pay off.”
Ragland led the way Wednesday with 14 points, while fellow seniors Garrett Stutz and Ben Smith scored 12 and 11, respectively.
“Proud of our seniors,” coach Gregg Marshall said. “The good news is I think this is possibly the beginning because the way we’re playing right now, anything’s possible.”
Marshall has good reason to believe his team has the potential to make a run in the NCAA tournament. The Shockers are averaging 77.8 points on 51.2 percent shooting in winning 15 of 16 games since a 68-61 loss to then-No. 21 Creighton on Dec. 31.
The lone blemish since New Year’s Day, however, was a 93-86 triple-overtime loss at Drake on Jan. 28.
The 7-foot Stutz, who averages team highs of 14.0 points and 8.1 rebounds, scored 27, while Ragland had 25 points, but the Bulldogs’ top scoring duo nearly matched that production. Drake’s Ben Simons had a career-best 29 points on 11-of-22 shooting, while Rayvonte Rice added 19 points despite missing 18 shots and career highs of 14 rebounds and eight assists.
While the Shockers will be trying to boost their NCAA tournament profile Saturday, the Bulldogs are shooting for a high seed in the conference tournament.
Drake (16-13, 9-8) is tied for third in the MVC and is one of six teams that can finish anywhere from third to eighth. There are 32 scenarios that can take place on the final day of the season to sort those seeds out.
The Bulldogs could finish no worse than fourth with a victory, but they’re just 3-8 on the road. The Shockers are 14-1 at home.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been in a situation like that where the range is that wide,” Drake coach Mark Phelps said. “We are Wichita State’s only loss in their last 16 games. They’re certainly going to be fired up on senior night, but I think our guys will be ready to play and go in there and play free and easy and let the chips fall where they may.”
Although it will be a tough task to upset Wichita State at Koch Arena, Phelps’ team could be in good shape if the shots start falling for Rice and Simons.
Rice is third in the MVC in scoring at 16.5 points per game, just ahead of Simons (16.0), and Drake is 10-3 when they score at least 14 points in the same game.
Simons returned after missing five games because of mononucleosis to score 14 Wednesday against Southern Illinois, while Rice had 19 points to lead the Bulldogs to a 78-63 victory. Drake went 2-3 in Simons’ absence.
“It was great to be back on the court,” he said. “As far as my wind and my lungs I was alright but my legs got heavy. Hopefully on Saturday I’ll feel even better.”