A couple of teams get their NCAA tournament started early in the Drake vs. Wichita State matchup that’s part of the First Four. The winner of this contest moves on to face #6 USC in the West Region. 25-4 Drake is listed as a -2 favorite in this tilt from Mackey Arena in West Lafayette.
There’s definitely some value on the 16-5 Shockers, who have made the NCAA tournament for the 8th time in the last 9 years not counting last year’s cancellation. This is Drake’s first appearance since 2008. Neither team had the toughest path to get here (Drake 125th strength of schedule, Wichita State 92nd) but the Shockers did match up with three tournament teams this season, posting a 1-3 record vs. Missouri, Oklahoma State, and Houston.
Drake Too Banged Up Here?
The Bulldogs are favored in the Drake vs. Wichita State, which must mean Shanquan Hemphill is going to give it a go. Drake’s leading scorer has been out since February 10th with a foot injury, but has been bumped up to probable for the First Four game. The Bulldogs were 6-3 in his absence.
February was rough for the health of the Bulldogs, as Roman Penn was lost for the season after breaking his foot in a win over Evansville on the 22nd. Penn averaged 11.2 ppg, and was a key ball handler.
Drake looks much different than the team that started off the year 18-0. Even if Hemphill returns, he hasn’t played in over a month and can’t do much cardio over that tie with a foot injury. The Bulldogs closed out the regular season with a loss at Bradley as -8 point favorites, squeaked by Missouri State 71-69 in their tournament opener, and then lost to Loyola-Chicago in the MVC championship game.
Wichita State Coaching Challenges
All of the success the Shockers have had in making 8 of the last 9 tournaments is a little bittersweet, as it happened under Gregg Marshall who resigned right before the season after allegations of physical and verbal abuse. Isaac Brown led Wichita State to a 16-5 record this year, but Thursday will be his first tournament game as head coach.
The Shockers do have the AAC Co-Player of the Year in Tyson Etienne, who averaged 17.1 ppg on the season. Etienne doesn’t get a ton of help, with Alterique Gilbert (10.1) the only other Wichita State player that scores in double figures. Morris Udeze has also stepped up down the stretch though, averaging 10 points and 9 rebounds in the two conference tournament games.
One thing about Wichita State is that they have been challenged more than Drake this season. The Shockers beat #6 Houston last month and lost by 7 on the road at the Cougars in early January. They also played #11 Oklahoma State to a 3-point loss and faced another tournament team in Missouri earlier in the season.
Free Drake vs Wichita State Pick
The Bulldogs posted an impressive 25-4 record this year, but were favored against every team besides Loyola and Kansas State. The Bulldogs are without one top player in Penn and have another one who is very rusty in Hemphill. Shockers should take this one.
Wichita State 73 – Drake 66
Free Pick: Wichita State +2