Vanderbilt Commodores vs Wichita State Shockers (-3.5, 134.5 O/U)
Getting an invite to the First Four isn’t like a real ticket to the dance. It’s more like standing at the front of the line outside while the bouncer pretends to check for your name. But it’s a welcome glimmer of hope for the Wichita State Shockers (24-8, 16-2 MVC), after an upset in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament threatened to derail their whole season. Tonight, they’ll try to escape Dayton with a win over the Vanderbilt Commodores (19-13, 11-7 SEC) in a First Four matchup (9:10 PM Eastern).
The Shockers were well on their way to a comfortable middling seed, ranking top-25 in the nation as late as Feb 13. But a couple losses to Northern Iowa ruined their rank, as well as a shot at the automatic bid; and when thrown into the at-large pool, it was questionable whether they would swim. Luckily for this veteran-laden team, the selection committee smiled down upon them. In fact, despite a shaky resume, the Shockers aren’t even the most controversial selection in this game.
The Commodores went a pedestrian 11-7 in what was widely regarded as a terrible Southeastern Conference. Going just 2-6 against ranked opponents, Vandy was on shaky ground even before getting upset by Tennessee in the conference tournament. Alas, here they are instead of mid-majors like Valparaiso: a win would go a long way in proving they were the right choice.
Each side has to be optimistic about its chances, not only tonight, but down the road. Since the NCAA implemented the First Four in 2011, at least one winner has gone on to win a second round game every year. That includes two teams that made the Sweet 16 (La Salle in 2013 and Tennessee in 2014) and one that made a Final Four (VCU in 2011).
Tonight’s matchup should be decided by the turnover battle. Wichita State is the nation’s top defense in terms of points per game, and is top-ten in turnovers committed. That means Vanderbilt will have to make the most out of each trip down the court: look for them to exploit a mismatch down low, where seven-foot center Damian Jones should be able to go to work against an undersized Shocker team.
Wichita State’s real edge is in the experience department. Senior guards Ron Baker (14.2 PPG) and Fred VanVleet (12 PPG) have played in ten March Madness games during their tenure. Used to the spotlight, they’ll control the pace and take over late if the game is tight.
Wichita State is cold against the spread coming into this one, losing their last three versus the number. But, on the year, they’ve gone 18-12 ATS, which is better than Vandy’s 15-15 mark. With a spread this tight, take the Shockers to get it done and advance.
Pick: Wichita State (-3.5).
(Photo Credit: TonyTheTiger (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo has been cropped.)
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