After an easy win over a Division II team served as a minor remedy to its first November loss in four years and an 11-spot plummet in the rankings, Wichita State can ill afford another slip against a major program if it wants to remain in the Top 25.
The problem for the No. 20 Shockers and their up-tempo offense is that they'll likely be missing two key pieces Thursday when they take on high-scoring Southern Cal in the quarterfinal round of the AdvoCare Invitational at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex.
All-America point guard Fred VanVleet is questionable because of ankle and hamstring injuries, while promising freshman combo guard Landry Shamet requires surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left foot and will miss 10-12 weeks.
"Losing Fred is a big piece to our offense," center Anton Grady said. "A big part of what we do is Fred moving, Fred creating things."
The Missouri Valley's preseason player of the year, VanVleet entered the campaign nursing a hamstring injury but played in the first two games. However, he logged just three minutes in an opening win over Charleston Southern before hurting his right ankle.
VanVleet gave Wichita State (2-1) 30 minutes against Tulsa on Nov. 17, but was visibly struggling and shot 3 of 10 with 11 points in a 77-67 loss which marked the Shockers' first in November since a 2011 overtime defeat against Temple.
With his team set to play three games over four days in this tournament, coach Gregg Marshall held VanVleet out against D-II Emporia State on Saturday with the hope that his offensive catalyst would be back at some point in Orlando.
VanVleet, who averaged 13.6 points, 5.2 assists and 4.5 rebounds in 2014-15, hadn't missed a game in his first three seasons and snapped a streak of 73 straight starts.
The good news is that Wichita State still has Ron Baker to keep things moving, and the graduate senior is averaging 20.3 points on 45.2 percent shooting - though he's compiled just eight assists.
Baker was the only player in double digits with 23 points in Saturday's 76-54 rout of the Hornets. The Shockers weren't exactly crisp but still dominated their much weaker opponent, shooting 47.1 percent overall and 7 of 19 from 3-point range.
"Today was a game to get our flow back, our swagger back," said Baker, who shot 6 of 13 to go with five rebounds and four assists.
The Shockers will need a more balanced effort against the Trojans (4-0), who are shooting nearly 50 percent and averaging 92.5 points. Wichita State has put that balance on display with five double-digit scorers against Charleston Southern.
Had VanVleet and Shamet been healthy, this matchup would have likely been an exciting one considering how well USC's guards have been playing. Jordan McLaughlin is scoring 20.3 points per game, Elijah Stewart is adding 15.3 and Julian Jacobs 12.5.
McLaughlin scored 20 points in a 96-61 win over Cal State-Northridge on Monday, and while Stewart and Jacobs combined for just 15 points, together they shot 7 of 15 and Jacobs had 10 of the team's season-best 26 assists.
"Our entire guard rotation is playing at a high level," coach Andy Enfield said. "We're more talented, a year older - players are improving their skill sets. Last year they really didn't understand how hard you have to work."
Another upset of Wichita State would improve the Trojans to 2-2 all-time in the series. The Shockers won the first two meetings in 1935 and '58 before losing 60-56 to USC on Dec. 23, 2006, as the No. 8 team in the nation.