Vanderbilt's next opponent is Wichita State, which elimintated Western Kentucky Saturday. The Shockers (22-9) held on to defeat the Hilltoppers 84-81 before over 10,000 fans at their home court. Wichita went 12-6 in the Missouri Valley Conference, and won one conference tournament game (defeating Drake 72-52) before being eliminated by Creighton (70-60). In non-conference play this season, the best wins for the Shockers were over San Francisco (65-55), Providence (90-86), and Tulsa (71-66), the latter two on the road. In conference play the best victory for the Shockers was a 58-56 home win over Southern Illinois (an NCAA Tournament team which defeated Vandy last November).
Wichita State is coached by Mark Turgeon (right, AP photo), who is in his fourth year at the helm. His record is 84-66. This is his third consecutive year to have his team in the NIT, and his second consecutive 20-win season. Turgeon played four years at Kansas, was team captain twice, and later served on Roy Williams' staff alongside current Vandy coach Kevin Stallings. He was an assistant coach to Jerry Green at Oregon from 1992-97, after which he was assistant to Larry Brown with the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers. He also had two successful years as head coach at Jacksonville State before coming to Wichita.
The two leading players for Wichita State are a pair of second team all-Missouri Valley Conference performers, both seniors. They are 5-11 Randy Burns and 6-5 Jamar Howard, and they start on the wings. Burns averaged 12.1 ppg and sank 41.6% of his three-point efforts, and has had games in which he simply took over. Howard (11.6 ppg) is the team's best defender and leading rebounder (5.8 per game), but not an outside scoring threat. He led the team with 22 points against Western Kentucky and got to the free throw line 15 times.
6-10 junior center Paul Miller was an honorable mention all-conference performer, scoring 10.6 ppg. He also averaged 5.3 rebounds per game. He may be the most valuable player on the team when he stays out of foul trouble, and the only player over 6-8.
The other two starters are 6-2 sophomore Adam Liberty and 6-8 senior Rob Kampman. Liberty is the point guard, with an assist/turnover ratio of nearly 2:1, but only scores 3.7 ppg. Kampman made the conference all-academic team, scores 7.5 ppg, and averages over four rebounds.
The sixth man is 6-8 sophomore Kyle Wilson (10.0 ppg). He is a good shooter (34.2% on threes, 86% on free-throws), who transferred in from Illinois and had to sit out the 2003-04 season. 6-3 redshirt sophomore P.J. Couisnard (5.8 ppg) also shoots well from outside and is a very good defender. In the last two games Couisnard has played over 30 minutes each time, nudging Kampman more-or-less into a reserve role.
6-2 freshman Sean Ogirri (7.7 ppg) is another good outside shooter and is likely to become the top scorer on the team next year. Another freshman, 5-11 Matt Braeuer, plays about 15 minutes per game and averaged 3.7 ppg.
Wichita State relies almost entirely on these nine players, six of whom (Burns, Wilson, Ogirri, Kampman, Couisnard, and Braeuer) are outside shooting threats. Howard, Burns, and Couisnard can drive to the basket effectively, especially Howard. The team has been winning the battle of the boards rather consistently but, of course, against mid-major opposition.
With the home court advantage, Vanderbilt has to be the clear favorite to win this game by 8 to 15 points. However the Commodores have shown themselves to be rather unpredictable, and another one of the team's bad nights could end the season.