The Missouri Valley Conference race could be just about over tonight.
The Wichita State Shockers travel to Carbondale to face the underachieving Southern Illinois Salukis in what is the most important game for the Shockers this season.
With the Northern Iowa Panthers win over Missouri State yesterday, Wichita State needs to win to stay within two games of the Panthers. Despite defeating N.I. earlier, the Shockers know that their chances of contending for the regular season title will be all but gone with a loss to the Salukis.
It's not that the Salukis haven't been competitive - they have. However, their inability to finish games has really hurt them. Horrible foul shooting cost them against Indiana State while horrible shooting (shot selection) in general resulted in a two-point loss to Bradley. Once the toughest place to win in the MVC, Carbondale has quickly become a feeding ground for opponents.
Wichita State already has two conference road wins - versus Indiana State and Missouri State. With their home win against the Panthers they have established themselves as the main challenger to N.I. Their NCAA tournament hopes surely rest on either winning the MVC title or the league tournament or both. They simply don't have the marquee win to boost their resume.
The Salukis, on the other hand, have to try and salvage something from this season. Despite a winning record, their season has been a disappointment to date. Optimistically, if they had converted three of those close losses into wins, the Salukis would be sitting at 7-3 and they would have the chance to chase N.I.
Maybe it is inexperience or chemistry or any number of reasons, but Southern has some high-quality talent and should be better. Stories surfaced recently about Chris Lowery being considered for the Depaul job after Jerry Wainwright was dumped. Personally, I can't see it. He has done well in terms of recruiting at Southern but that hasn't translated into performance on the court. I know some people will point to the Sweet Sixteen appearance and near-upset of Kansas, but that was essentially a team he inherited. Recruiting, and winning, in the Big East is a much different story.
Following the trend, I'll predict that the Shockers win by 3.