Sunday, March 5, 2017

Rosenberg: Wichita State showed its dominance in the MVC Title Game

Photo Credit: Jeremy Rosenberg

By: Jeremy Rosenberg

ST. LOUIS— Championship Sunday in St. Louis left no doubt as to who the superior team was. The Wichita State Shockers came out strong behind the shooting of junior guard Connor Frankamp and freshman Landry Shamet, and the defense never allowed the Illinois State offense to get on track. In the end, Wichita State claimed a decisive 71-51 victory, and punched its ticket to the NCAA Tournament.

The victory capped off a gratifying season for Shockers coach Gregg Marshall. After losing all-MVC stars like Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker, who played for a combined 83 years in Wichita, 2016-2017 was supposed to be a rebuilding year. Instead, Marshall retooled behind young talent like Shamet, Frankamp, and an athletic group of forwards to complete a 30-4 season and their first Arch Madness title since 2014.

Illinois State struggled mightily from the start. Star players like Tony WIlls and MiKyle McIntosh could never get on track, while big men Phil Fayne and Daouda Ndiaye got into early foul trouble. MVC Player of the Year Paris Lee was all that kept the Redbirds from being completely cut down by the Shockers. Lee gave a gutty performance, finishing with 18 points and 6 rebounds, but could not get enough support from his teammates.

The Redbirds couldn't mount a real run to threaten the Shockers, as time and time again Illinois State's shots and free throws would clank out, while Wichita State's shots seemed to always get the friendly roll. It was a frustrating way for the Redbird seniors to finish their MVC career. The only question that matters to them now is whether they continue their season in the NIT or the NCAA Tourney.

That is a question for the Selection Committee to decide, but it seems each time they have a choice between a high level mid-major team and a 7th or 8th team from a Power 5 conference, the mid-major team is snubbed. Fans in Normal will have to sweat it out for a week.

As for the Shockers, this team will be a tough out in the NCAA's. They are deep, they are athletic, they have quality guards, especially Shamet, who plays with a quiet confidence, let's the game come to him, and provides a steady hand for the Shocker offense. Connor Frankamp is a dangerous three point shooter who can get hot and help the Shockers make another long run.

It was a game that failed to live up to the hype. Partially because Illinois State came out flat, but also because Wichita State was intense and focused from the opening tip. Often games are decided by epic choke jobs, or elections are split between electoral and popular vote victories. Given such dubious outcomes, it is nice to have a decisive, clear champion for the Missouri Valley Conference. Illinois State had a fine season, and will hopefully get a chance to redeem themselves in a couple of weeks. 

But let there be no doubt about 2016-2017. This season belonged to the Wichita State Shockers.

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