Drake (25-4) vs Wichita State (16-5)
When: Thursday, March 18th, 2021
Where: Mackey Arena,
West Lafayette, IN
Time: 6:27 ET | TV: TBS
Opening Odds: Wichita State -2/139.5
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Two teams who had to sweat out Selection Sunday will square-off against each other as the Drake Bulldogs battle the Wichita State Shockers in a First Four game Thursday night from West Lafayette, Indiana. Drake will make its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2008, gaining an at-large berth despite falling to Loyola Chicago in the Missouri Valley tournament final. The Bulldogs raced to a 18-0 start this season and was one of three remaining unbeatens in Division I. Injuries to a couple of star players have made things difficult, as top scorer ShanQuan Hemphill (14.1) has been out after suffering a broken foot Feb. 10, but is listed as probable. Another key contributor, Roman Penn, also suffered a February foot injury and is out for the season. The Shockers (16-5) edged out Houston for the AAC regular-season title – a team that gained a No. 2 seed in the Big Dance. Wichita State won the regular-season title in the American Athletic Conference, but lost to Cincinnati in the conference tournament. Wichita State coach Isaac Brown replaced Gregg Marshall in November after he was accused of abusing players and staff verbally and physically. After being promoted with the title of interim coach, Brown was awarded a five-year contract last month. The berth is the eighth for Wichita State in the last nine tournaments. The former Missouri Valley rivals have played 11 times since 2012 and the Shockers have won all of them. Wichita State has won 15 straight games against Missouri Valley Conference teams. The winner will play Saturday against sixth-seeded USC in the West Region.
Drake dominated the Missouri Valley Conference this year and picked up 25 regular season wins for the first time since 2007. They shoot 49.6 percent from the field, ranking No. 15 in the country in that category. They also rank in the top 50 in points allowed (64.66), rebounding (30.93) and field goal percentage (54.5). This is a very solid all-around team. Joseph Yesufu – a sophomore – averaged a team-high 12.1 points per game and shot over 80 percent from the free throw line. The Bulldogs spread out the scoring, as five players averaged double-digit points per game. As a team, Drake averaged 77.4 points per game.
Wichita State had won eight straight games before their semifinal loss to Cincinnati and went 11-2 in the AAC. Sophomore guard Tyson Etienne leads the Shockers with 17 points per game to go along with 3.5 rebounds and 2.6 assists and was named AAC Co-Player of the Year. Alterique Gilbert, a Connecticut transfer, averages 4.1 assists per game, while Dexter Dennis is their top defender. Trevin Wade, who provides backcourt depth, will wait to travel after missing the AAC tournament because of COVID-19 protocols. This is a defensive team, who only turned the ball over on 15.9 percent of their possessions – 27th-best in the country.
This should be a really tight game, as both teams are evenly matched. I’ll side with Drake here only because Wichita State hasn’t been as impressive lately. They are just 3-7 ATS in their last 10 games and barely beat South Florida twice in the last month. The Shockers also shoot just 40.5 percent from the floor – 316th in the country.
Pick: Drake -1.5
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