Coming into the 2016 season if you had asked Wichita State and Vanderbilt if they would be happy playing in a First Four matchup each team would have said “heck no.” If you were to ask them now? They’re just happy to be here.
The preseason AP No. 10 and No. 18 teams respectively each had underwhelming campaigns. Both teams are now healthy, but each also is coming off of an early exit in their conference tournament. This appears to be a matchup that pits Wichita State’s Tournament experience against Vanderbilt’s athletic ability. So which team will survive and advance to face the No. 6 seed Arizona Wildcats in Providence on Thursday?
First Four: No. 11 Vanderbilt Commodores vs. No. 11 Wichita State Shockers
When: 9:10 p.m. CT (Tuesday, approximate tip time)
Where: University of Dayton Arena (Dayton, OH)
Line: Wichita State -3.5
Keys for Vanderbilt Commodores
Vanderbilt was lucky to receive an at-large bid, but that luck ran out when the Commodores got the Tournament-tested Shockers as their opposition. Wade Baldwin must use his length to shut down Wichita’s Fred Van Vleet like he did Kentucky’s Tyler Ulis (5-20 from the field, 0-7 from three) in Vanderbilt’s biggest win of the season. The Commodores also must use their size to their advantage. Damian Jones and Luke Kornet are two seven-footers who must dominate in the post. Wichita’s tallest player averaging more than eight minutes a game is Anton Grady (6-8). Kornet in particular could be key for Vanderbilt’s success.
Keys for Wichita State
Wichita State Ranks No. 25 in the country in Assist-to-Turnover ratio at 1.44. The Shockers also lead the way in scoring defense, holding opponents to just 59.3 points per game. They must continue these strong trends to knock off Vanderbilt and advance to the round of 64. The key player for Wichita State is jack-of-all-trades Ron Baker. The senior guard needs to score efficiently and connect on timely buckets when the Shockers enter a few inevitable scoring droughts.
Wichita State is too experienced to let the apparent talent deficiency be a factor. The real key matchup in this contest could be between the men calling the shots off of the court. Kevin Stallings has never led any of his teams beyond the Sweet 16 and this is Vanderbilt’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2012. On the other side, Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall has led the Shockers to four straight Tournaments and is just three seasons removed from a Final Four run in 2013. Marshall and the Shockers’ collective postseason experience could be the deciding factor against Stallings and the Commodores.