The 11-seed in the NCAA Tournament's South Region has been decided after the Wichita State Shockers defeated the Vanderbilt Commodores 70-50 on Tuesday night in Dayton, Ohio. The 6-seed Arizona Wildcats, who have been forced to await the results of this play-in game to know their opponent, can now focus their preparation on the Shockers for Thursday night's Round of 64 game.
A tight first half ended in a 30-30 tie, with neither team shooting the ball particularly well; Wichita State shot 35% from the floor versus Vanderbilt's 38%, and the two teams combined to go 2-for-17 from beyond the 3-point line.
The beginning of the second half was a different story for the Shockers, as they went on an 11-0 run over the span of four and a half minutes. Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker led the Shockers on offense with back-to-back threes and, for VanVleet, two of his eventual five total assists.
Vanderbilt came roaring back with an 8-0 run of their own, eventually narrowing the margin to one after some big shots from Riley LaChance and a 3-point play by Damian Jones. That would be as close as the Commodores would come, as Wichita State found both their 3-point stroke and their trademark tenacious defense to go on a 10-0 run and take a 60 - 48 lead at the 3:53 mark. Things continued to unravel for the Commodores as their head coach Kevin Stallings was assessed a technical foul with 2:58 to go.
With a 16 point lead and little over two minutes to go, the game played out about as predictably as possible. Vanderbilt went 0-for-13 from the floor over the last 8:38, Wichita State took care of the defensive glass, ran out the clock, and ended the Commodores season with a 70-50 victory. Vanderbilt finished the game shooting a dismal 30% from the field, an abysmal 16% from beyond the arc, 57% from the free throw line, and turned the ball over 12 times.
Everything that was expected from this Wichita State squad was readily apparent in this game. The defense was stingy against a normally excellent Commodore offense, holding them to more than 25 points below their average. The senior leadership of Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker showed up in the box score with 28 points, 10 assists, and 12 rebounds combined, and in the intangible department when the two lead the Shockers from a stagnant first half to a romp in the second. VanVleet also took an elbow to the head, drawing blood and requiring butterflies from the training staff, but returned in short order to head up the Wichita State attack.
Arizona knows exactly what they are getting with this Wichita State Shockers squad. This team will not beat itself; the Shockers commit very few turnovers, play disciplined defense, have experience and leadership, and stay calm in the face of pressure. Arizona will need to put together a full 40 minutes of solid basketball to beat as dangerous an 11-seed as there may be in the tournament.
In fairness, Vanderbilt played poorly in all aspects of this game, and not all of that can be attributed to the Shockers. 57% from the free throw line, 23 fouls including a technical by their head coach, and a baffling inability to guard the perimeter in the second half are as indicative of the Commodores' ineptitude as much as Wichita State's prowess.
That said, good teams take care of business against lesser foes, and Wichita State took full advantage in this First Four matchup.
It's up to Arizona to make sure they are not the next victim.