This is what we are going to get for the rest of the season: announcers are going to try and figure out what good reason that a team will have to beat the Wichita State Shockers.
And they will be wrong, or have it wrong from the start in their reasoning.
Let's go to the tape on the latest result, an 84-68 win by the Shockers over Evansville on Sunday evening.
Before the game we were told that this is a team that is built to beat the Shockers, and that the Purple Aces had done just that last season.
Ok, cue the record scratch there. You can't go back to last season and look at that Evansville team and think that this version has the same ability to take down Wichita State.
That version had a certain guy named Colt Ryan on it. That player doesn't exist any longer on the Evansville bench. He isn't going to come walking out of the tunnel onto the court and put up 26 points against this defense. To believe there is any tie-in to that team is a myth.
That doesn't mean this team that took the floor isn't good. We watched them not two weeks back put a scare into Wichita State for a good 15 minutes... well, we tried to watch them do that. We were preempted for the end of the game that came before. We saw the score tick up in the corner, and then we actually watched Wichita State's defense destroy what was left of Evansville when the game came on.
This year's team is kind of built to beat this Wichita State team. It has a big man in the middle that can prevent the Shockers from driving to the lane and getting the hoop, or getting fouled. But here is the thing about Egidijus Mockevicius: he gets tired.
And when Mockevicius is tired, there is no one left on Evansville to fill that gap.
So what does Wichita State do? They run, and run, and keep on running until Mockevicius is gasping for air and imploring the sideline to give him a rest.
He scored 19 points while he was on the floor because the Shockers don't have the size to contend with him. Carl Hall isn't in the middle any longer. But the important thing here is that Mockevicius couldn't stay on the floor.
OK, so if you can't rely on the size, or a player who doesn't play for the team any longer, what can you look to?
The backcourt for the Aces is supposed to be one of the better young pairs in the country.
Pause for a second here. They are one of the best young pairs in the country and they will be good. But they are going up against one of the great pairs of guards in the country in Fred Van Vleet and Ron Baker. This is a duo of elite players. No matter how good you are at this age, Baker and Van Vleet are better. That is a fact of life right now.
26-0, Keeping Those People Quiet
How do you keep Those People from talking? You find ways to win when everything continues to go against you. Is the pressure of a '0' in the loss column starting to get to Wichita State? Maybe, but they keep staying cool when it counts.
Baker and Van Vleet are susceptible to the same mistakes as any other young duo. But every other young group going against them is going to fall prey to the miraculous things that they do.
So on this night, Baker and Van Vleet tormented the Aces. The two Shocker guards generated 10 steals between them.
Duane Gibson, who in the first meeting fell prey to Anticipation. Hands. Pressure. more than any Evansville player, again had five turnovers. D.J. Balentine had two more, and freshman forward Blake Simmons gave up four possessions.
The total reads 18 lost possessions for the Purple Aces, mostly because of what Baker and Van Vleet can do to you. That is 26.1 percent of all their possessions lost. You can't win that way.
So what about Balentine, who was great in the first game? What about his ability to score, much like Ryan used to do for this team?
He opened the scoring for the Aces with a three, and finished with 19 points. But along the way, he went quiet for 15 minutes in the first half, and then he was scoreless for another seven-minute stretch in the second half.
The Shockers put their best defenders on Balentine watch. First it was Tekele Cotton, then Baker, and then back to Cotton. When Balentine did manage to break free, it was only after having multiple screens block the tenacious defenders of Wichita State. No, it doesn't take one man to stop them; it takes a line of man after man to hold them back.
So no, Balentine couldn't beat them.
This Evansville team, "built to beat" Wichita State, was beaten to every punch by the Shockers. They planned perfectly for this game, not watching to get into a state like the last meeting, and they triumphed more convincingly than any time since they hit 20 wins.
It was as if Wichita State was running the reverse of the Evansville offense on defense. It was point after point off turnovers, led by that charge of Van Vleet and Baker.
The mop-haired one finished with a season high of 26 points and was barely off target the entire game. Van Vleet looked more like himself, and dropped 18 points to go with his eight assists.
This is the best backcourt in the country right now -- regardless of age. They might be young, but when they play like this, with focus, with innate reactions to everything that the opposing team is doing, they can't be beaten without some amazing performance elsewhere on the floor.
That performance wasn't coming tonight, not with the way this team looked. This was a Wichita State team that finally looked itself again, and should have impressed a few people along the way tonight, people would fall into Those People, and have every excuse to say why the Shockers don't deserve what they are earning this season.
This was a win like they put up earlier in the year, and a win that says they are back for this stretch run. They are 27-0 now, and there isn't a team "built to beat them" remaining over the final four games on the schedule. Not Loyola, not Drake, not Bradley, not Missouri State. They are favored to win all of those games, with percentage chances north of the 90s.
So let's kill that theme now. There is no one built to beat the Shockers. It is really looking like the only team that can do that is themselves.