When the Wichita State Shockers and Notre Dame Fighting Irish take the floor Thursday night, much of the focus will be on the two men who will control the ball the most: Fred Van Vleet and Jerian Grant.
The two are among the most dynamic point guards in the game, combining a talent for distributing the ball and scoring on the floor. According to our measure of value, HOOPWAR, both Van Vleet and Grant were worth more than 10 wins to their team this season.
From what we have seen so far in the NCAA Tournament, neither team would be in the Sweet 16 without them. Van Vleet had a monster game against Indiana, providing the scoring ballast while the rest of Wichita State struggled to get their rhythm. Grant scored 16 points for Notre Dame against Butler, but more importantly had five assists as the defense concentrated on stopping the senior.
The defensive question will loom large for Wichita State as they will have to find a way to slow down one of the top five offenses in college basketball. Not only will they have to deal with Grant, but Zach Auguste will be a formidable challenge in the middle for a Shocker team that doesn't have a bunch of 6-9 players to roll out against him.
It is likely that Gregg Marshall will look to top defender Tekele Cotton to hold off Grant's charge, with the smaller Van Vleet flipping over to patrol against Demetrius Jackson. Cotton will provide a few more inches of reach and should be able to stay with Grant, who is not as fleet of foot as Yogi Ferrell was for Indiana. Failing that plan, it is hard to see Van Vleet switching back to Grant and giving up five inches on the court, so it will likely be Ron Baker facing up the point guard.
That would be the worst situation for Wichita State as Grant is able to draw contact and could have the best offensive weapon for the Shockers sitting on the bench.
On the inside, it is probable that we will see more of Bush Wamukota in this game than his normal six minutes, just to give a little more size for the Shockers inside. Darius Carter has the ability to play larger than he is, but given his tendency to get into foul trouble (and for that matter, Shaq Morris' tendency to only foul when he is in the game) Marshall will have to look at how to better prevent the ball from going into the post.
That is where the three-headed monster of Van Vleet, Cotton and Baker are going to be so important. They need to be able to stop the penetration by the guards, and also block the passing lanes for Wichita State to succeed Thursday night.
If they are able to do that, the Shockers should be able to slow down Notre Dame's high powered charge, and avoid having any scoring droughts totally tank the team.
It is likely that the Shockers will once again have to live from outside in this one, a place where they are comfortable. The big question mark will be Evan Wessel and if his performance against Kansas (career-high four 3-pointers) was just a one-time thing or the breakthrough in his game that Shocker fans have been waiting for.
These teams are very evenly matched as you can see by laying out the HOOPWAR and DEF100 scores for the squads likely to see the floor. Obviously the Wichita State team is a little better on the defensive side, and it will be shown tonight how much that difference on defense is able to slow down the Irish offensive juggernaut.
|Wichita State||Notre Dame|
|Fred Van Vleet||G||9.69||12.42||Jerian Grant||G||8.81||8.40|
|Ron Baker||G||6.48||11.90||Pat Connaughton||G/F||4.49||17.71|
|Darius Carter||F||3.79||10.61||Zach Auguste||F||4.39||13.73|
|Tekele Cotton||G||2.78||10.67||Demetrius Jackson||G||3.08||8.06|
|Evan Wessel||G||-0.90||7.29||Steve Vasturia||G||-1.21||5.40|
|Shaq Morris||F||-0.69||1.20||V.J. Beachem||F||0.18||5.36|
|Bush Wamukota||F||-0.62||0.53||Bonzie Colson||F||2.66||16.87|
Wichita State still looks to have the edge in this one, although it appears it is going to be close. KenPom.com gives the Shockers a 52 percent chance of winning with a final score estimated at 69-68. I think we might see this play out slower, and as I said on the Notre Dame Q&A, we are headed for a 64-60 score in favor of Wichita State.