(7) Wichita State Shockers (-1, 137 o/u) vs. (3) Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Kansas is a state divided after the No. 7 Wichita State Shockers (30-4, 17-1 MVC) defeated the No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks over the weekend (covering as 1.5-point dogs). The win was extremely cathartic for Shocker fans, who have watched Kansas coach Bill Self refuse to face the team in non-conference play over the years.
“There’s so much to be said about this rivalry with Kansas, but really, it’s all about the fans,” said Shockers point guard Fred VanVleet said, “What better story is there for Wichita State?”
Tekele Cotton spurred the Shockers to their shocking victory with 19 points. VanVleet had 17 points, while Evan Wessel scored 12 (on 4/6 shooting from beyond the arc).
“We don’t have McDonald’s All-Americans, we don’t have guys that have been in the spotlight, and been given that pedestal,” VanVleet said. “We work for everything we’ve got, from managers to coaches to our preacher to, you know, whoever. We’ve scrapped and fought our whole lives.”
That work now leads Wichita State to a Sweet 16 game on Thursday against the No. 3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (31-5, 14-4 ACC) in Cleveland (7:15 p.m. Eastern). The Irish needed overtime to beat Butler 67-64 in the Round of 32.
Notre Dame’s Steve Vasturia had 20 points in the win, while leading-scorer Jerian Grant and point guard Demetrius Jackson had 16 and 13 apiece. Zach Auguste, the team’s second-leading scorer, only managed seven points, but he was huge on the glass with 13 rebounds.
“We made big plays down the stretch. We’ve been doing that all year,” said Grant, who scored what proved to be the winning bucket. “We’re playing with a lot of confidence right now. We want to keep it rolling.”
The Fighting Irish are in the regional semifinals for the first time since 2003. The win was especially moving for Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, whose mother had died earlier in the day.
“What a magnificent college game,” he said. “It was a really special night. She was 84, a former Olympic swimmer, an unbelievable woman, a woman ahead of her time and probably the real driving force behind everything I’ve done. I think she was definitely with us down the stretch.”
Divine intervention aside, look for the Shockers to beat the Fighting Irish. They boast an extremely experienced backcourt in VanVleet and shooting guard Ron Baker, who both played integral roles in the team’s run to the Final Four two years ago. Indeed, the Shockers’ only tournament losses over the past two years came at the hands of Louisville in 2013 (the eventual champion) and Kentucky in 2014 (the eventual runner up).
Wichita State minus the point looks like the better play.
(Photo credit: TonyTheTiger (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo has been cropped.)