Take a glance at the Missouri Valley Conference statistical leaders, and one thing, save for the amount of Saluki pickpockets, is clearly noticeable.
Of all the major categories, only two feature a Wichita State player in the top 10.
Those players are Randy Burns, eighth in scoring, and Paul Miller, tied for ninth in rebounds.
Burns leads four Shockers who are scoring in double figures. But even his stats – 13.2 points and 1.28 steals a game – aren’t jaw-dropping.
What’s surprising is after falling short of expectations two years in a row, the Shockers are just a game behind SIU as the two teams prepare for Saturday’s showdown.
Just ask Josh Warren.
“Every year they say this is their team, they’re going to win it this year,” Warren said. “And this year they’re doing it; they’re not talking about it.”
Wichita State (12-2, 5-1) wasn’t just meeting high expectations; it was exceeding them until a loss to Manhattan at home and a 64-60 letdown at Indiana State six days ago.
But Wichita State, drilling opponents with a conference-best 75.7 points a game, has seemingly regrouped after an 18-point victory Monday at Evansville.
The Shockers’ frontcourt – Miller, Rob Kampman and two-time first-team MVC forward Jamar Howard – could present some challenges for SIU.
Warren, LaMar Owen and Darren Brooks did a great job crashing the boards against Bradley, limiting the Braves’ second chance opportunities and touches in the post.
As well as they did though, Bradley’s big men, with the exception of Marcellus Sommerville, were underclassmen with limited experience.
Miller, a junior, and Howard and Kampman, both seniors, will not be as easy to defend and will continue fighting for position and attacking the glass where most newcomers might stop.
The biggest challenge, though, could come from the Salukis themselves.
SIU (15-3, 6-0) has had problems on the road and needs to get over its recent affinity for spotting opponents’ first-half leads to stay competitive.
Southwest Missouri State led by eight points at halftime, and the Braves held a 19-6 advantage eight minutes into Wednesday’s game.
“I think we’ve been playing good lately,” Brooks said. “But we have been getting off to slow starts, and on the road you can’t really do that.”
The Salukis are coming off two consecutive road victories against Creighton and Evansville. The only problem is after those two wins, their record in true road games stands at just 3-3.
Another chief concern for SIU is the recent shooting slump its guards have slipped into.
Jamaal Tatum nailed half of his shots against SMS but combined with Brooks shot just 8-for-39 in the last two games.
Fellow backcourt mate Stetson Hairston missed all five of his shot attempts Wednesday and saw just two of nine shots fall against the Bears.
Warren’s newfound aggression together with Tony Young and Mike Dale’s energy off the bench has made up for the Salukis’ sluggish starts and struggle from the outside.
So, to race out to seven straight conference wins for just the second time in school history, all the Salukis need to do is win the battle within. Right?
“That’s all we’re worried about, taking care of ourselves,” Young said. “We don’t worry too much what everyone else does.”
Reporter Drew Stevens can be reached at [email protected]