Mid-Majors Battle in First Four
Both Wichita State and Drake did just enough to make the NCAA Tournament field this season, despite falling short in their respective conference tournaments. Now, only one of them will make the first round proper as the two mid-major darlings face off as part of the First Four opening round of games in March Madness.
Drake enters the matchup as a 2-point favorite over Wichita State, according to BetMGM.
Tournament losses leave both teams on bubble
Both teams earned a provisional No. 11 seed in the West region, with the winner advancing to take on USC in the first full round of the tournament. Each came into their conference tournament contending for an automatic bid that would have avoided this added game.
Wichita State (16-5) earned the top seed in the American Athletic Conference Tournament, but lost 60-59 to Cincinnati in the semifinals. Drake made it all the way to the Missouri Valley Conference final before losing to top seed Loyola, 75-65.
|Drake vs. Wichita State Odds (via BetMGM)|
|Drake (-2): -110||Wichita State (+2): -110|
|Drake: -140||Wichita State: +115|
|Over 140.5: -110||Under 140.5: -110|
Drake (25-4) hasn’t played since that loss on March 7, and lost two of its last three games after starting the season 24-2. The recent slide coincides with the loss of ShanQuan Hemphill, who leads Drake in both scoring and rebounding. He’s been out since breaking his foot against Northern Iowa on Feb. 10, but may be available for Thursday’s game.
Despite the recent losses, the tournament committee gave Drake a chance, which players say is all they’ve wanted this season.
“We’re very excited to get the opportunity to go play, despite the end of the year,” Drake guard DJ Wilkins said, via the Des Moines Register. “All we wanted was an opportunity. We felt like we did what we had to do throughout the year, throughout all the adversity we had to go through.”
Drake returns to March Madness after 13 years
Drake is making its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 2008, when the Bulldogs earned a No. 5 seed only to lose to Western Kentucky in a 101-99 overtime thriller in the first round. Conversely, the Wichita State Shockers have regularly made March Madness appearances as of late, reaching the tournament every year between 2012 and 2018, and even getting to the Final Four in 2013.
It’s been three years since Wichita State last played in the tournament. Now, the Shockers will face a familiar foe, as they played Drake regularly when the Shockers were still a part of the Missouri Valley Conference. Wichita State coach Isaac Brown says Drake now looks a lot more like the teams he regularly faces in the AAC.
“They remind me of a team in the American because they run a lot of dribble drive,” Brown told reporters. “They’re not a motion team like a lot of the Valley teams. They try to beat you one-on-one, off the dribble, off the bounce.”
Wichita State comes into the NCAA Tournament relatively hot, having won eight straight games before its 1-point loss to Cincinnati.