If it can remain the nation's lone unbeaten team, Wichita State has a chance to ascend to the top of the national rankings for the first time in 50 years.
The No. 3 Shockers will try to make their case while securing the Missouri Valley Conference's outright regular-season title Saturday night against visiting Drake.Wichita State (28-0, 15-0) became the only remaining Division I team with a perfect record when No. 1 Syracuse lost 62-59 in overtime to Boston College on Wednesday. That same night, the Shockers wrapped up a share of the MVC title and the top seed in the conference tournament with an 88-74 victory at Loyola of Chicago.Fred VanVleet was 6 for 6 from the field and 10 of 10 from the free throw line while scoring a team-best 22 points. He also led the way with eight rebounds and six assists while committing just one turnover."We want to be undefeated," VanVleet said. "We don't play the game to lose."The sophomore guard's performance helped his team perhaps move to the cusp of its first No. 1 ranking since Dec. 14, 1964. No. 2 Florida (24-2) is Wichita State's likely top rival for that spot and plays at Mississippi on Saturday afternoon.Wichita State will likely earn at least its first No. 2 ranking in the AP poll since Dec. 28, 1981, with a victory against Drake (14-13, 5-10).The Shockers will try to do their part to make it a competitive race with Florida while matching the best start by a team since Illinois opened 29-0 in 2004-05. Wichita State is also seeking its second outright MVC title in three seasons with a victory Saturday. It has a three-game lead over second-place Indiana State with three to play."They're very level-headed, mature," coach Gregg Marshall said of his team's demeanor while undefeated. "They just go out and take care of their business."The Shockers pulled away in the second half in a 78-61 victory at Drake on Jan. 25. Wichita State used a 21-6 run to help turn an eight-point halftime lead into a 25-point advantage with 4:45 remaining.Cleanthony Early had a team-best 19 points and his seven rebounds played a part in the Shockers' 34-20 advantage on the boards. They also had 10 offensive rebounds to Drake's three, and held Bulldogs leading scorer Richard Carter to six points.Carter, averaging 17.0 points, has scored in double figures in each of his five games since a season-low five points in a loss at Illinois State on Feb. 1. He had 19 on Tuesday while helping the Bulldogs hold on for a 70-67 win over Northern Iowa after they nearly blew a 20-point lead in the second half.Drake has won back-to-back games after losing 10 of 12, but it's dropped a season high-tying three in a row on the road and six of its seven in MVC play.The Bulldogs are averaging 58.3 points in their last four away from Des Moines, which doesn't bode well for facing a Shockers team that is limiting MVC opponents to an average of 53.9 points and 37.6 percent shooting in seven games in Wichita.The Shockers have taken four in a row over Drake and five consecutive home matchups by an average of 19.2 points.
The Shockers 29-0 start is tied with Illinois for the 2nd-longest undefeated start in the last 30 seasons. Only the 1990-91 UNLV running rebels with Larry Johnson and company had a better run to start the season. Both the teams in the Shockers company also made the Final Four that season.