Playing in the uber mid-major Missouri Valley Conference, Wichita State isn’t a school that gets a lot of national attention under normal circumstances despite making the Final Four back in 2013 and drawing a No. 1 seed in the 2014 NCAA Tournament. This week is big for the No. 25 Shockers (18-6, 12-1 MVC), who have a date with MVC rival Northern Iowa (14-11, 6-6 MVC) and need guard Fred VanVleet’s defense to be on point and then some.
It certainly helps Wichita State that VanVleet is easily their best on-ball defender. He is averaging close to two steals per game and against a hot-shooting team in UNI, that’s going to be key. The Panthers already have wins over Iowa State and North Carolina this season and rank 38th in the nation in points allowed.
UNI also ranks 29th in the nation in three-point percentage, having made 39 percent of its threes as a team. If this team gets off to a hot start, it simply rolls.
Now, while it is important to note that Wichita State has already beaten UNI this season 74-55 and VanVleet’s on-ball defense along with that of his teammates held the Panthers to 33 percent shooting and put them in such a position where they tried to shoot their way out of trouble, anything is possible at this point in the season. The Shockers lost to Illinois State last week, a team they should have beat handily. In other conferences, Oklahoma was ranked No. 1 last week and lost to unranked Kansas State last weekend.
The point is that Wichita State, nor any other team, is in any position to get cocky this late in the regular season and needs to treat every game up until conference tournaments as though it is the championship game.
This means that VanVleet needs to forego scoring in favor of defense this weekend against UNI, and his teammates will be all the more thankful if another dominant win over the Panthers takes place.