Fred VanVleet is fully healthy, which means it’s time to stop worrying about Wichita State.
The Shockers picked up a huge win Tuesday night, defeating fellow Missouri Valley Conference contender Evansville 67-64, and VanVleet was the star. The point guard scored 16 points, grabbed five rebounds, and dished out nine assists, and generally controlled the tempo throughout the game.
It’s also worth noting that Anton Grady looks healthy again as well, as he was terrific against a tough Evansville front line. He scored his 17 points in a variety of ways, including by pulling Aces star big man Egidijus Mockevicius away from the hoop and knocking down jumpers. It was his first double-digit performance since suffering a spinal concussion against Alabama in the Advocare Invitational in November. If he can continue to stabilize the front line for Gregg Marshall’s group, that will give them a pretty different dimension from what they have had throughout the start of their season.
It’s also worth commending Evansville for playing a tough game against a team that hasn’t lost at home now in 39 straight games. It was impressive that they did this while only getting 23 points from its two stars Mockevicius and D.J. Balentine. Guard Jaylon Brown led the way with 18 and helped to prove that they’re going to be a tough out in the Valley this season. Even at 13-3, the Aces probably didn’t do quite enough in the nonconference to get an at-large bid. However, they’re certainly going to be in the automatic bid race at the end of the year.
However, the story here is Wichita. Winners of seven of their last eight, the Shockers are finally back to being the team we expected in the preseason. The league is deep, so I don’t know that this team will be able to run through the MVC like they have in past seasons. And because of that, they still ultimately might need to win the conference tournament to get into the NCAA tournament.
But that’s further down the road. The important thing is that the Shockers have all of their pieces healthy and are coalescing at the right time. As long as that happens, they’re going to be tough for any team remaining on their schedule to beat.