Wichita, KS (Sports Network) - A pair of Missouri Valley Conference squads heading in opposite directions meet at Koch Arena on Wednesday night, as the 23rd-ranked Wichita State Shockers entertain the Southern Illinois Salukis.
Following a 65-53 win over Nicholls State on Dec. 21, SIU was sitting pretty at 7-3, but since then it was been trending downward. The Salukis are in the midst of a four-game losing streak, which includes defeats in their first two MVC games versus Bradley (66-60) and at Evansville last Saturday (85-68).
Wichita State got off to an outstanding 9-0 start, which allowed it to sneak into the Top-25, but it promptly fell out of the rankings following a 69-60 loss at Tennessee in mid-December. The Shockers have gotten back on the winning track of late, beating Bradley on Sunday (69-63) for their fifth triumph in a row, and as a result have jumped back into the national rankings this week.
The Shockers have won five of the last six matchups with the Salukis, but the latter still leads the all-time series, 47-37.
Despite shooting an impressive 51 percent from the field against Evansville the last time out, SIU fell to 0-3 in conference play by allowing the Purple Aces to connect on nearly 58 percent of their total shots on their way to the 17-point victory. Jeff Early led the way for the Salukis with his fifth double-double of the season, tallying 18 points and 10 rebounds, while Anthony Beane (15 points) and Desmar Jackson (10 points) were also impressive in defeat. SIU hasn't had much trouble shooting the ball, as it connects on a solid 45.7 percent of their attempts from the field this season, but it has only resulted in a scoring average 66.7 ppg (ninth in the MVC). Jackson has been an effective all-around performer with 15.1 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 2.3 apg and 2.0 spg, although he does lead the team in turnovers with 41. Early's presence in the paint has been a big help (13.2 ppg, 7.3 rpg), and with Dantiel Daniels (10.8 ppg) out with a sprained ankle, Beane (9.9 ppg) has stepped up as the team's third scoring option.
The Shockers faced a tough road matchup against Bradley on Sunday, and they even trailed with less than four minutes remaining in the game. They finished on a 10-2 run to capture the victory, and pacing the squad's 47.4 percent field goal shooting was Cleanthony Early, who drained 8-of-14 from the floor (including 4-of-7 from 3-point range) on his way to 24 points. Demetric Williams was the only other player to net double figures with 10 points. Wichita State has been strong at the offensive end of the court all year long, scoring over 70 ppg, but the biggest reason for its success has been its scoring defense, which ranks first in the MVC in allowing opponents to put up a mere 57.9 ppg. With Carl Hall (13.9 ppg, 7.6 rpg) expected to miss another week or two with a thumb injury, Early is the only Shocker to average double- digits with his 13.9 ppg, although Williams (8.6 ppg) and Malcolm Armstead (8.4 ppg) have increased their production in recent weeks. Additionally, the team enjoys favorable margins in both rebounding (plus-8.2) and turnovers (plus-1.5).