Don't Sleep On Wichita State Basketball This Year
A year ago at this time, Wichita State basketball was the talk of the nation, as they were preparing to take an undefeated record into the NCAA Tournament. Those hopes ended with a crushing loss to Kentucky in the Round of 32. Wichita State is more under the radar this year, but don’t sleep on these Shockers—they still have what it takes for a Final Four run.
Gregg Marshall’s team still has the solid backcourt trio of Ron Baker, Fred VanVleet and Tekele Cotton that helped push them last season. Baker is the leading scorer at 15 ppg and the team’s best three-point shooter. VanVleet is the playmaker, and a good shooter himself, chipping in 13 ppg. Cotton is more the third wheel, but can step up if you lose track of him defensively.
Baker and VanVleet were only sophomores last year and perhaps in retrospect, that lack of experience is something that should have been considered, with the heavy spotlight they were under. Now everybody is a little more toughened up, and the spotlight is down.
The big missing piece from last season is forward Cleanthony Early, a tremendous talent, who could play down low and also step outside. But while Darius Carter isn’t Early, the 6’7” senior is still pretty good, averaging 12 points/5 rebounds.
Wichita is coming off a 74-60 thumping of a good Northern Iowa team last Saturday, a game that gave the Shockers their second straight Missouri Valley Conference title and the third in four years. Both Wichita and Northern Iowa are headed for seeds anywhere in the 3-6 range pending the outcome of this weekend’s conference tournament in St. Louis.
I’m not suggesting that this year’s Wichita team is actually better than last year’s—the departure of Early and the fact that this year’s team has lost three games, preclude that claim. What I am suggesting is that they’re still awfully good, they’re experienced and they’re in a spot which is much more palatable to teams from lower-profile conferences, and it’s being able to sneak up on people.
We also know that Marshall can coach in March, having reached the Final Four in 2013. I don’t know where I’ll pick Wichita in my bracket, since so much of this year depends on where one is in relation to Kentucky. I can say that I’ve got them high on my list as the dark horse team to make the Final Four.