Coming into the college basketball season, nobody expected Wichita State and Vanderbilt to participate in the First Four games in Dayton. Both teams were preseason top 20 teams in the AP Poll, and seemed destined for potential Final Four runs. Unfortunately, one of these teams will be sent home before the round of 64 starts in the NCAA Tournament on Thursday.
No. 11 Wichita State Shockers (24-8) vs. No. 11 Vanderbilt Commodores (19-13)
The Shockers are approaching the end of their greatest era as a program. Back in 2013, little known freshmen, Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet helped lead the Shockers to an unforeseeable run to the Final Four. A year later, the Shockers won 35 straight games before losing to Kentucky in the round of 32. Last season, Wichita State was bounced out in the Sweet 16 against Notre Dame. Along with Evan Wessel, the trio averaged over 31 wins per season, so their 24 game win total is lower than the Shockers are used to.
Meanwhile, this is Vanderbilt’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since the 2012 season. Marred by injuries and uneven play, the Commodores underachieved for most of the season, but they have the talent and depth to make a deep run.
Behind Wade Baldwin’s 14.3 points and 5.2 assists, the Commodores have plenty of production on the perimeter. They also have a dominant inside presence with Damian Jones and Luke Kornet. Combined, they average 23 points, 14 rebounds, and 4.6 blocks per game. In addition, Kornet is a threat from 3-point range, but he can’t rely on long range bombs.
Baldwin will likely have to deal with Ron Baker in one of the best match ups of the tournament. Baker averages 14.2 points per game, while VanVleet is second on the team with 12 points per game. The rest of the team doesn’t reach double figures, but the Shockers have a plethora of scorers to make an impact on the offensive end.
The Shockers aren’t a good rebounding team at all. In fact, Baker leads the team with 4.8 boards per game. If they are unable to rebound as a team, the Commodores size should be able to dominate inside. However, the Shockers will have their way if there are plenty of rebounding opportunities.
The Commodores average 76 points per game, so they have no problem scoring. But Wichita holds opponents to 59 points per game, leading the entire country on defense. The Shockers must force turnovers to keep Vanderbilt off balanced.
It won’t be a surprise if this game comes down to the final minutes. As stated earlier, the Shockers have the most experienced back court in the country. Will Baker or VanVleet be able to make a play when it counts?