Playing angry is Wichita State's basketball trademark. The Shockers have a chance to mix in a dose of revenge when they face Kentucky in a second round NCAA Tournament game on Sunday.
The Wildcats spoiled an undefeated season for Wichita State in the 2014 NCAA Tournament when they edged the No. 1-seeded Shockers 78-76 in the second round. Kentucky ended up reaching the national championship game that season while Wichita State suffered the ignominy of being the first No. 1 seed eliminated from that year's Tournament.
This time around Wichita State is in a familiar underdog role and is a dangerous one. The Shockers (31-4) have won 16 straight and are outscoring opponents by 19.2 points per game this season. They should offer a steep challenge to Kentucky (30-5) who swept the SEC regular season and tournament titles for the third consecutive season.
South Region: No. 10 Wichita State (31-4) vs. No. 2 Kentucky (30-5)
When: 2:40 pm ET (Sunday)
Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse (Indianapolis)
Line: Kentucky -4.5
Keys for Wichita State
Offensive balance has served Wichita State well this season. The Shockers average a healthy 81.5 points per game. Six different players average seven or more points for Wichita State. Sophomore forward Markis McDuffie leads the way with 11.7 points per game.
Wichita State will need that balance against a Kentucky roster stocked with future NBA players. The Wildcats have the length, speed and size to clog the paint, disrupt passing lanes and force a flurry of bad shots and turnovers. Staying composed is important. Preventing them from zeroing in on any single player is even more critical.
The Shockers must spread the wealth on offense inside and outside. Shaquille Morris and Darral Willis need to do damage in the post. Landry Shamet and Conner Frankamp need to keep the Kentucky defense honest on the perimeter.
Keys for Kentucky
The Wildcats clearly have an advantage over Wichita State in size, speed and athleticism. Kentucky now needs to play with a killer instinct and pressure the Shockers early.
Bam Adebayo needs to win the battle in the post to free up driving lanes for Malik Monk and others. Adebayo can be a force on both ends for the Wildcats. He averages 13.3 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. If the 6-foot-10 forward can cause enough disruption down low, it could be a long 40 minutes for Wichita State.
Monk and De'Aaron Fox are explosive scorers. If they can get into a rhythm early, it will force the Shockers to pick their poison. The duo combines for 36.4 points, 7.1 assists and 6.6 rebounds per contest. When they are playing at their peak, they're tough for even the best defenses to handle.
Wichita State has waited for this chance to exact revenge against Kentucky. The Shockers are not a typical No. 10 seed and deserved much better than what they got from the selection committee. Both teams grinded out ugly first round wins. The difference is Wichita State did it against Atlantic 10 champion Dayton and Kentucky did it against No. 15 Northern Kentucky. The Wildcats feel like a team that is ripe for an upset.
Prediction: Wichita State 77, Kentucky 74
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.
(Top photo courtesy of Go Shockers Facebook page)