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This is a Sweet 16 game? Better believe it. For the first time all tournament, Wichita State is going into their game as a favorite. That rarely happens for the first time in the second weekend. As for La Salle, they still aren't getting much respect because their win was against a 12-seed compared to the Shockers win over a No. 1 seed. Wichita is currently a -4 point favorite at 5 Dimes Sportsbook
The Shockers weren't a hot team coming into the tourney. They lost to Creighton in the MVC title game and were 2-2 in their previous four. They only had one loss in non-conference games which not many teams can say, especially with the likes of VCU and Iowa on their schedule. Still, not many people were giving them credit and some believed they shouldn't even be in the tourney with six losses in the Missouri Valley. None of that mattered to the Shockers who destroyed Pittsburgh in their first game. Everyone just assumed Pittsburgh would win because they are from the Big East. Then if that wasn't enough, WSU went out and shocked everyone again with their win over Gonzaga.
La Salle's route was to sweetness was a little less exciting. They were competitive in the Atlantic 10 which is saying something after all five of the teams in that conference won their first games (although La Salle is the only one in the Sweet 16). Included in their conference wins, they had wins over tourney favorites such as Butler and VCU. However, their non-conference schedule wasn't too pretty with a loss to Central Connecticut State standing out. Their best wins were against Villanova and Iona. They took down MWC's Boise State in their first game, flew by Kansas State in the next and hung tough with Ole Miss until the end.
So again, why does Wichita State get four points over a team from the Atlantic 10? These teams are very similar and both excel at the guard position. Neither one is much of a threat down low, but that hasn't really affected them yet even against bigger teams.
The Explorers are led by three guards that can all shoot and take defenders off the dribble. They all lack size, but Ramon Galloway has some hops which is why he averages close to five boards per game. Those three on the outside have been tough for opposing defenders, especially in the open court. Jerrell Wright is their main big man and has held his own so far. A matchup with Carl Hall is likely. Hall is a hybrid big man in that he likes to shoot a little more than post people up. Those two will be battling all day.
The Shockers have a little more size and play a more physical brand of basketball which has caused their opponents problems so far. Malcolm Armstead is their play maker and he didn't even have a great game against Gonzaga only going 2-for-9 from the field. Much like the first two games, Cleanthony Early is going to be the biggest problem for La Salle. Coming off the bench, Early provides a lengthy frame at 6-8 that is tough to box on rebounds and also and has a sweet stroke from outside. He and Ron Baker were the main reasons Wichita State won their last game. The two combined for eight made three-pointers and were a part of the Shockers barrage at the end of the game when they made five straight bombs from distance.
Let's be real, Wichita State is not going to go 14-of-28 from three-point land again. This is a team that shot 33 percent from distance on the season. Assuming they don't have back-to-back games of abnormality, this game will be back-and-forth and exciting to watch even though they aren't top of the line schools. The Shockers have the edge due to their overall size advantage, but that didn't faze La Salle all that much in their last two games against bigger teams.
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