Sweet 16 Preview: No. 9 Wichita State vs. No. 13 La Salle

Twenty-four hours before Tyrone Garland paid homage to his roots by using the move his cousin taught him growing up on the playgrounds of Southwest Philadelphia to hit the game-winning shot against the Ole Miss Rebels, Wichita State was knocking top-seeded Gonzaga out of the 2013 NCAA Tournament.

The 9th-seeded Shockers (28-8) defeated the West region’s number one seed, 78-70, on Saturday night in Salt Lake City. After the 13th-seeded Explorers (24-9) edged out the 12th-seeded Rebels, 76-74, in Kansas City on Sunday, the two underdogs were set to square off in the Sweet 16 on Thursday night.

La Salle hasn’t reached this point in the NCAA Tournament since Tom Gola led the 1955 squad to the Championship game, where they eventually fell to Bill Russell and the University of San Francisco Dons. Wichita State, meanwhile, played in the Sweet 16 as recently as 2006.

The Shockers come out of the Missouri Valley Conference, a ten-team league that sent only one other squad to this year’s tournament in Creighton, the seventh-seed in the Midwest region who lost to Duke in the round of 32 this past weekend. Despite the MVC being one of the weaker conferences in the country this year, Wichita State proved their mettle with an out-of-conference road victory over VCU, one of the rugged Atlantic-10′s top teams that La Salle also defeated on the road during league play.

The Shockers are led by two 6’8 forwards in Junior Cleanthony Early and Senior Carl Hall, who averaged 13.2 and 12.6 points per game, respectively, during the regular season. The two upperclassmen also combined to grab just over 12 rebounds per game, contributing a large portion of the team’s 38.4 rebounds per game average, which ranked 27th in all of Division I. Their offense runs through 6’0 Senior guard Malcolm Armstead, who dished out 4 assists per game to go along with 10.6 points.

With La Salle’s smaller, guard-oriented offense, Wichita State has a sizeable advantage on the glass, and can dominate the Explorers in the low post. The Shockers are shooting 71.9 percent in the paint so far in the tournament, fourth-best in the field and second-best among teams that advanced to the Sweet 16. They also haul in 26.3 percent of their own misses at the offensive end, ranking 12th in the nation. With the 6’8 Jerrell Wright being the Explorers’ only presence underneath the basket, guards Ramon Galloway, Sam Mills and D.J. Peterson will have to contribute on the boards.

Despite making 14 of 28 shots from beyond the arc against Gonzaga, including seven consecutive threes down the stretch to help pull off the upset, Wichita State is normally an average three-point shooting team, converting 33.7 percent of their attempts from long range. La Salle, meanwhile, ranks as one of the better teams in the country from deep, averaging close to 38 percent as a team. Ramon Galloway and Sam Mills have made 21 of 37 threes (56.8%) so far in the tournament, and will need to continue their hot shooting in order for the Explorers to pull off the victory.

If La Salle goes cold from the outside, they could be in trouble. They’ll need to keep the Shockers off the boards, which according to the statistics, could be very difficult for them to do. With such a large disparity in terms of post presence as well, Jerrell Wright will need to hold his own down low in order to prevent second-chance points for Wichita State.

Contrarily, if La Salle can hit some early threes and build a lead, it may be challenging for the Shockers to catch up. The Explorers are averaging 14.7 transition points per game in the tournament and have outscored all three of its opponents in transition, another facet of the game they should be able to exploit, as long as they don’t get dominated on the glass.

Hopefully for La Salle, the additional wear and tear from the play-in game they’ve endured doesn’t catch up to them on Thursday night. They’re as confident as ever, and certainly aren’t afraid of anyone, as Tyrone Garland can attest. Their speed, chemistry and toughness have served them well so far in the tournament, and they could be just one more “Southwest Philly Floater” away from the Elite Eight.

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Andrew Dalton

Andrew grew up and still resides right outside Philadelphia in Montgomery County and has been a die-hard Philly sports fan for as long as he can remember. One of his earliest sports memories, unfortunately, was watching Joe Carter hit the World Series winning homerun off Mitch Williams in 1993 with his Dad. All that did however, was make the Phils' 2008 World Championship that much sweeter. You can follow him on Twitter @dutch4885.