Wichita St.-Illinois St. Preview
By JEFF BARTL
(AP) -- Wichita State has become the newest mid-major darling while rising to the top of the Missouri Valley Conference and appearing poised for its first NCAA tournament berth in six years.
The 19th-ranked Shockers seek their seventh straight win Wednesday night when they visit Illinois State, which hasn't beaten a ranked team in more than 24 years.
Creighton once seemed to be the MVC's lock for the tournament, but Wichita State's 89-68 rout of the then-No. 17 Bluejays on Feb. 11 shifted the conference in the Shockers' favor.
Wichita State sits alone atop the Missouri Valley with a 14-2 record and has clinched at least a share of its first conference title since 2005-06 - the last time it qualified for the NCAA tournament. It's already locked up the top seed for next week's MVC tournament.
It improved to 24-4 overall and boosted its at-large profile with a 91-74 victory at Davidson in a BracketBuster matchup Saturday.
"This gives us a quality win and will enable us to move up... if not the top 15, then the top 20," guard Demetric Williams said. "Hopefully this gets us into the (NCAA) tournament."
Coach Gregg Marshall earned his 300th career victory and lauded the performance of guard Joe Ragland, who finished 11 of 14 from the field and scored 30 points in 32 minutes.
Garrett Stutz, the team's leading scorer averaging 14.1 points, was held to eight.
"How about 30 points on 14 shots?" Marshall said. "You talk about efficiency. That was one of our keys - being efficient on offense. I guess the only thing he could do better was be absolutely perfect. But 30 points? I should have played him more, I guess."
The Shockers have won 22 of 24, though they received a tough test from Illinois State (17-11, 8-8) in the first meeting before earning their sixth straight victory in the series.
The Redbirds nearly overcame a 16-point halftime deficit before falling 65-62 on Jan. 10 in Wichita, as Redbirds freshman Nic Moore scored a season-high 23 points.
Illinois State came back from nine down to beat Oakland 79-75 in its BracketBuster matchup Saturday, improving to 14-2 at home. Jackie Carmichael scored 25 points and grabbed 19 rebounds, boosting his conference-leading average to 9.3 boards per game.
The Redbirds are 8-2 when Carmichael posts a double-double.
"He wanted the ball," said coach Tim Jankovich, who earned his 100th career win. "I couldn't be more proud of Jackie. He raised it to another level."
Carmichael had nine points and 13 rebounds in the first meeting with Wichita State, which got a team-high 15 points from Ragland.
Illinois State likely will need a better start this time to beat its first ranked team since upsetting No. 14 Iowa 89-88 on Dec. 29, 1987. It hasn't defeated a Top 25 team at home since knocking off No. 9 Tulsa 91-81 on March 3, 1984.
Wichita State has won the last five meetings, including a 65-51 victory Jan. 7, 2011, in the most recent matchup in Bloomington, Ill.
Illinois State's last win in the series was 72-57 at home Dec. 29, 2009.
Updated February 21, 2012