March Madness Free Pick - Wichita State vs. Vanderbilt
The 24-8 Wichita State Shockers will face off against the 19-13 Vanderbilt Commodores on Tuesday in a play-in game with the winner advancing to face the Arizona Wildcats in the first round of the NCAA tournament. This is Wichita State's 5th consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament while the Commodores are making their first appearance since 2012. The Shocker's started the year at 5-5 but went 19-2 in their next 21 games before falling to Northern Iowa in the Missouri Valley Conference semifinals. Vanderbilt is coming off two straight losses including a heartbreaking 67-65 loss to the Tennessee Volunteers in the first round of the SEC tournament. The Commodores were able to make the tournament thanks to big wins over Kentucky, Texas A & M and Florida twice.
Wichita State is led offensively by Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker. Baker Leads the team with 14.2 points per game while also averaging over 3 assists per game. Baker has made 237 three pointers in his career which is the most in team history but went 0-5 from behind the arc in the loss to Northern Iowa. VanVleet is a 2 time Missouri Valley Conference player of the year and averaged 12 points and over 5 assists per game this season. Defensively, they led the nation in points allowed per game with 59.3. They are also ranked 5th in the nation in defensive rebounding as they grabbed 76.3 % of all defensive rebounding opportunities this season.
Vanderbilt is led offensively by point guard Wade Baldwin IV and forward Damien Jones who both averaged over 14 points per game this season. Baldwin also averaged over 5 assists per game and made over 41% of his three pointers. Jones shoots 60% from the field while also grabbing 7 rebounds per game. Matthew Fisher-Davis and Jeff Roberson both shot 45% from three point range this year giving Vanderbilt 3 legitimate outside threats including Baldwin. For the year, Vanderbilt finished 21st in the country in three point percentage by making 38.8 percent of their attempts. Luke Kornet is a 7 foot Center who averages 3 blocks per game but also shot 29 % from the three point line which really helps spread the floor for the Commodores.
Wichita State enters this contest with much more experience as both VanVleet and Baker have both played in a Final Four, an Elite Eight and two Sweet Sixteen's. Although Vanderbilt doesn't have the experience of Wichita State, they do have a size advantage with both Luke Kornet and Damien Jones being 7 footers while the Shockers don't have anyone that big. Both teams have depth and good bench play as the Commodores have 5 players averaging at least 9 points per game and the Shockers have 9 different players who average at least 15 minutes per game. Wichita State enters this matchup as the favorites and are 18-12 against the spread this year while the Commodores are 15-15.