S. Illinois-Wichita St. Preview
By JEFF MEZYDLO
(AP) -- Undefeated for three weeks without one of its top players, Wichita State is back in the Top 25.
The No. 23 Shockers look to remain perfect in the Missouri Valley Conference with a sixth consecutive victory overall Wednesday night while trying to extend visiting Southern Illinois' losing streak to five games.
Wichita State (14-1, 3-0) opened with nine straight victories and spent two weeks in the Top 25, reaching No. 23 on Dec. 10, before it dropped out after a 69-60 loss at Tennessee three days later. Since that defeat, the Shockers have won five in a row by an average of 12.6 points.
Their current run is even more impressive considering they remain without senior forward Carl Hall (13.9 points, 7.6 rebounds per game), who is expected to be sidelined at least another week with a thumb injury suffered in practice Dec. 15.
"I have the utmost respect for (coach) Gregg (Marshall) and what they do," first-year Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson said. "They are playing 12 guys in double-figure minutes and getting everything out of each and every one of those 12 guys."
Off to the school's best start since the 1953-54 team opened 16-1 and coming off consecutive MVC road victories, Wichita State returns to Koch Arena - where it's allowed 55.7 points per game on 38.1 percent shooting during a 15-game home winning streak that dates to a 68-61 loss to Creighton on Dec. 31, 2011.
"It's never fun to go to that arena, but it's a great venue for college basketball," Hinson said.
Looking for their 25th consecutive home win over an unranked opponent, the Shockers have won two in a row and five of six versus Southern Illinois (7-7, 0-3) since losing 19 of 22 in the series. Wichita State has won two of the last three meetings at Koch.
The Salukis will get their first look at junior college transfer Cleanthony Early (13.9 ppg), who scored 24 and went 4 of 7 from 3-point range in Sunday's 69-63 win at Bradley. Senior guard Demetric Williams added 10 points as Wichita State shot 47.4 percent and closed the game with a 10-2 run to win for the 18th time in 19 regular-season conference contests.
Mired in its longest slide since dropping its final seven games last season, Southern Illinois looks to avoid dropping its first four league contests since the 1986-87 team started 0-5 in the conference.
The Salukis are expected to be without starting forward Dantiel Daniels (10.8 ppg, 3.5 rebounds per game) for a third straight game because of an ankle injury, leaving them with only one active player taller than 6-foot-5. That does not bode well for SIU, which already ranks near the bottom of the MVC at 31.9 rebounds per game and faces a Wichita State squad that averages a conference-high 38.1.
Six-foot-one senior Jeff Early, no relation to the Shockers' star, leads the Salukis with 7.3 boards and averages 13.2 points. He had 18 and 10 rebounds as SIU shot 51.0 percent but Evansville made 57.7 percent of its shots in Saturday's 85-68 loss.
Wyoming transfer Desmar Jackson averages a team-leading 15.1 points, but he was held to 10 against the Purple Aces.
Updated January 8, 2013