A new era dawns for No. 10 Wichita State as the Shockers visit Connecticut on Saturday afternoon in their first American Athletic Conference game following a 72-year run in the Missouri Valley Conference. Wichita State bounced back from a 91-83 loss to No. 12 Oklahoma and freshman sensation Trae Young with a pair of lackluster come-from-behind home victories over Arkansas State 89-80 on Dec. 19 and Florida Gulf Coast 75-65 on Dec. 22.
“Obviously you want to make a good first impression,” Shockers sophomore guard Landry Shamet told the Wichita Eagle about their nationally televised AAC debut. “But we’re approaching this like we would with any other good teams we’ve played. We just look at it like we have another good team we have to go try and beat.” Shamet averages a team-best 17.1 points - 21.8 over his last five games - and has played at least 33 minutes in the past six contests. The Huskies are coming off back-to-back losses, including 89-64 to Auburn on Dec. 23 in their last game, and junior guard Jalen Adams knows what needs to be done. “When we get back (home), everybody’s just got to get a reality check, look themselves in the mirror and know their strengths and weaknesses,’’ Adams told the Hartford Courant. “We’ve got to lock in defensively, and let our defense create our offense. Once we get stops, the floor will open up and we can play offensively. We can’t worry about our offense first.”
TV: Noon ET, CBS
ABOUT WICHITA STATE (10-2): Junior forward Markis McDuffie, who led the Shockers in scoring and rebounding, should be better Saturday after recording three points and five rebounds in nine minutes versus FGCU. “It’s a lot of rust,” McDuffie told reporters after playing his first game of the season since recovering from a stress fracture in his left foot. “I’ve never in my life not played basketball for three months.” Senior forward Rashard Kelly (team-high 7.9 rebounds) needs three boards to become the 40th player in school history to record 500.
ABOUT CONNECTICUT (7-5): Adams averages team bests of 18.2 points and 3.5 assists, and is the only active Huskie with more assists (39) than turnovers (25). Junior guard Terry Larrier (15.5 points, team-high 5.3 rebounds) is the top 3-point shooting threat at 41.2 percent - well above the team number of 31.0. Sophomore guard Christian Vital (12.5 points) is the only other double-figure scorer, but shoots only 36.4 percent from the field and 28.8 from beyond the arc.
1. Connecticut is 1-5 versus teams from major conferences this season, including a 71-63 victory over Oregon on Nov. 23 and a 77-57 loss to No. 2 Michigan State one day later, and also fell to No. 18 Arizona 73-58 on Dec. 21.
2. Wichita State is a Division I-best 43-6 on the road since the start of the 2013-14 season and its eight-game winning streak in true road games is tied with No. 1 Villanova for the longest current run in the nation.
3. Connecticut was 329th among the 351 Division I teams entering Friday in field goal percentage at 40.1 percent and 337th in assist-to-turnover ratio at .69.
PREDICTION: Wichita State 80, Connecticut 58