Wichita St.-Tennessee Preview

The Associated Press

If Wichita State is to secure the best start in school history, it must pass what is expected to be another difficult road test.

The No. 23 Shockers look to open 10-0 for the first time while trying to hand Tennessee a third consecutive loss Thursday night.

Wichita State has equaled its best start by winning its nine games by an average margin of 14.5 points and allowing 58.8 per contest.

The Shockers have won both of their true road games, overcoming a season-low 35.1-percent shooting effort by holding Virginia Commonwealth to 34.7 from the field in a 53-51 win Nov. 13. They shot a season-high 58.3 percent and won 72-69 at Air Force on Dec. 2 despite 19 turnovers.

Wichita State may be facing another stiff road challenge against Tennessee (4-3). Despite totaling 74 points and shooting 30.6 percent in back-to-back losses at No. 15 Georgetown and Virginia, the Volunteers rank among the national leaders with 57.0 points allowed per contest.

This will be the first meeting since Wichita State's 80-73 victory over then-No. 18 Tennessee in the second round of the 2006 NCAA tournament.

"They could be as good of a team defensively as we've played to this point," Shockers coach Gregg Marshall said.

The Vols' two best shooting games came in wins over Kennesaw State (60.5 percent) and Oakland (52.8) in their only two home contests. Wichita State has averaged 79.3 points and shot 55.0 percent in its last three games.

The Shockers were hardly challenged in an 80-54 win over Northern Colorado on Saturday, but Marshall expects his team to play better after allowing the Bears to go 13 of 26 from the field after halftime.

"We knew 9-0 was the best start here,'' he said. "We played good in spurts (Saturday). But to be 10-0, we'll have to play a lot better than we did in the second half.''

While starting guard Evan Wessel will miss a second straight game with a hand injury, 7-footer Ehimen Orukpe is expected back after missing the last three with an ankle injury. The senior has not played since recording five blocks in a 75-63 win over Iowa on Nov. 21.

Forward Carl Hall, who averages 13.1 points and 7.4 rebounds, will look for a bounce-back effort after managing two points and two boards in 20 minutes Saturday. Hall was coming off a 21-point, 10-rebound performance in his previous game.

Hall will try to contain 6-8 Jarnell Stokes, who averages 11.9 points and 7.9 rebounds. The sophomore is Tennessee's biggest inside threat despite totaling nine points and taking eight shots in the last two games.

"We have to do a better job of getting the ball to Jarnell," Vols coach Cuonzo Martin said.

While Martin continues to search for answers to solve his team's recent shooting struggles, the Vols are doing their best to stay confident.

"We've got to work harder to get better," said guard Trae Golden, who had 11 points and was the only Tennessee player in double figures during a 46-38 loss at Virginia last Wednesday. "We have to score the ball. That's all we have to do. Once we do that, then we will be fine."