Fred Van Vleet

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No. 7 Wichita State outclasses No. 2 Kansas, earns second Sweet 16 appearance in three years


The matchup between No. 7 Wichita State and No. 2 Kansas was one that folks in the Sunflower State have been looking to see for quite some time. With the two programs being the best in the state at this time, Sunday’s matchup in Omaha was seen as long overdue given the fact that the Shockers and Jayhawks hadn’t met since 1993.

Gregg Marshall’s team took full advantage of the opportunity, as they erased an eight-point first half deficit by the intermission and took over from there. Wichita State won by the final score of 78-65, earning a trip to Cleveland for next week’s Midwest Regional against No. 3 Notre Dame. The Shockers received contributions from stars and role players alike, and they were simply the tougher team on the court.

While the three-headed perimeter attack of Tekele Cotton (19 points, two rebounds, three assists), Fred Van Vleet (17 points, six rebounds, six assists) and Ron Baker (12 points, three rebounds, two assists) were all productive, the contributions of Evan Wessel and Zach Brown were important as well.

With Darius Carter (ten points, four rebounds) and Shaq Morris both saddled with early foul trouble the undersized Wessel provided Wichita State with both toughness and perimeter shooting. Despite playing against a bigger front line, Wessel accounted for 12 points (four three-pointers) and nine rebounds and his three-pointer with 4:15 remaining in the first half sparked the 13-2 run that gave Wichita State a three-point lead at the intermission.

Wessel (nine points on 3-for-5 3PT) and Brown (five of his seven points) combined to score 14 points in the second half, a period in which Wichita State carved up the Kansas defense. Van Vleet was able to make plays off the dribble against the Jayhawks’ man defense, and an ill-fated shift to zone simply resulted in the Shockers finding open perimeter shooters. Kansas had no answer from a strategic standpoint, but the bigger issue was that Bill Self’s team couldn’t answer the call from a toughness standpoint either.

Wayne Selden went scoreless, missing all five of his shots from the field, and Kelly Oubre wasn’t much better as he tallied nine points on 3-for-9 shooting. If not for Frank Mason III (16 points, six rebounds), Perry Ellis (17 points, eight rebounds) and Devonte’ Graham (17 points, three assists) the margin would have been much worse and Landen Lucas’ ten rebounds can’t be overlooked either.

But overall, Kansas didn’t have the same conviction to get to where they needed to go on the floor as Wichita State and that hurt them offensively.

The Jayhawks shot just 35.1 percent from the field, as Wichita State’s defense limited the number of quality looks Kansas could find. Add in the fact that Wichita State shot 59.3 percent in the second half, and the Shockers were able to eliminate any chance of a comeback down the stretch.

With this win the Shockers have now won 30 games or more in each of the last three seasons, with last year’s 35-1 campaign sandwiched in between a Final Four run in 2013 and this year’s Sweet 16 appearance. Their motto of “play angry” reveals Wichita State’s intention every time they step on the floor, and failing to match the Shockers in that regard will result in defeat. Kansas learned that the hard way in Omaha Sunday evening.

Fred Van Vleet scores 27, No. 7 Wichita State advances

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No. 7 Wichita State will get their shot at No. 2 Kansas.

The Shockers knocked off No. 10 Indiana 81-76 on Friday afternoon, using a 15-3 run in the second half to take a 65-57 lead that they would never look back from. The Hoosiers cut the lead to one with two minutes left after Yogi Ferrell and Colin Hartman hit back-to-back threes, but the Shockers were too much down the stretch.

Fred Van Vleet led the way for the Shockers, finishing with 27 points and four assists. He scored 19 of those 27 points in the first half, as Indiana came out of the gates on fire while Van Vleet’s teammates struggled to get into a rhythm. They were overwhelmed on the offensive glass by the Hoosiers — which is saying something, Indiana is not a good rebounding team — and Ron Baker couldn’t buy a bucket.

In fact, Baker played about as poorly as I’ve ever seen him play in the first 20 minutes. He finished the afternoon with 15 points, but he was just 3-for-13 from the floor and wasn’t anything other than a decoy offensively for much of the second half. He was 2-for-9 from the floor with three turnovers in the first 12 minutes, but he played well defensively down the stretch and hit a couple of big free throws.

The biggest play of the game came from Tekele Cotton. With the Shockers up just 74-72 with under a minute left, Marshall called a timeout and drew up a beautiful set, one that resulted in a back-screen for Cotton, who received a pass from Darius Carter on the block and scored over James Blackmon.

Indiana wouldn’t truly threaten again.

The Shockers will advance to take on Kansas in what will be the most intriguing game of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. Long story short: Kansas and Wichita State are the two best basketball programs in the state, but they don’t play each other. Wichita State will tell you it’s because Kansas is scared. Kansas will tell you it’s smart business; when they’re pulling recruits out of the Wichita, they don’t want to have the hometown school beat them.

There’s more to the story as well. Former Kansas guard Connor Frankamp transferred out of the program in November. Where did he transfer to? Wichita State. Will the Jayhawks adjust their play calls or add anything else into their offense?

With all due respect to Indiana and New Mexico State fans, this is the matchup that we all wanted to see.

Freshmen Tyus Jones, Melo Trimble among finalists for Bob Cousy Award

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Friday morning the finalists for the Bob Cousy Award, annually given to the nation’s best point guard by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, were announced. Among the players on the list are two of the nation’s best freshmen, Duke’s Tyus Jones and Maryland’s Melo Trimble.

They’re the only two first-year players on the list, which includes six seniors, five juniors and four sophomores.

From a conference standpoint the Pac-12 leads the way with four finalists, with Arizona’s T.J. McConnell, Cal’s Tyrone Wallace, Utah’s Delon Wright and Washington’s Nigel Williams-Goss being the players on the list. In total nine conferences are represented. Also making the cut is BYU junior Kyle Collinsworth, who has tallied an NCAA-record five triple-doubles this season.

Below is the list of finalists for the award, which was won by UConn’s Shabazz Napier last season.

2015 Bob Cousy Award Finalists

T.J. McConnell, Arizona (senior)
Kyle Collinsworth, BYU (junior)
Tyrone Wallace, California (junior)
Ryan Boatright, UConn (senior)
Tyus Jones, Duke (freshman)
Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga (senior)
Keifer Sykes, Green Bay (senior)
Yogi Ferrell, Indiana (junior)
Monte Morris, Iowa State (sophomore)
Terry Rozier, Louisville (sophomore)
Melo Trimble, Maryland (freshman)
Marcus Paige, North Carolina (junior)
Kris Dunn, Providence (junior)
Delon Wright, Utah (senior)
Nigel Williams-Goss, Washington (sophomore)
Juwan Staten, West Virginia (senior)
Fred Van Vleet, Wichita State (junior)

New Year’s Resolutions: Wichita State Shockers

Fred Van Vleet (AP Photo)
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Conference play is right around the corner, so over the course of the next two weeks, College Basketball Talk will be detailing what some of the country’s best, most intriguing, and thoroughly enigmatic teams should resolve to do with the New Year right around the corner. What can we say, we’re in a giving mood. Thank Jessica Simpson.

MORE: The rest of our New Year’s Resolutions | Midseason catchups

WICHITA STATE PROMISES TO: Get Fred Van Vleet and Tekele Cotton going on offense

  • It will happen because: Van Vleet, in particular, is not shooting very efficiently this season while Cotton, a senior guard, is shooting below last season’s marks as well. Based on their career averages, both guards will improve as the season rolls along. In his junior season, Van Vleet has really struggled, as he’s shot 37 percent from the field, 30 percent from three-point range and 75 percent from the free-throw line after much better splits as a sophomore (48% FG, 41% 3PT, 83% FT). Those numbers should go up after a few particularly bad games made those splits look worse. As Wichita State also gets senior forward Darius Carter more involved in the offense, it should put less pressure on Van Vleet and Cotton to create shots for themselves, which isn’t a strength.
  • But it might not because: Without Cleanthony Early, Wichita State has had to move Van Vleet and Cotton up the scoring ladder as the No. 2 and No. 3 options behind Ron Baker and it hasn’t gone well for either player. Van Vleet is a steady floor leader and intelligent big-game player, but he can’t create his own shot very easily and Cotton is best served turning defense into offense and not being relied on for shots in half-court sets. Darius Carter has looked like a potential No. 2 option to alleviate those concerns, but as one of the Shockers’ only productive forwards, he’s susceptible to occasional foul problems. It just might be that Wichita State is asking too much offensively of Van Vleet and Cotton and they’re not capable of putting up efficient shooting numbers when defenses focus more time trying to stop them.

WICHITA STATE ALSO SWEARS THEY WON’T: Forget about the free-throw line

  • It will happen because: This isn’t the same Wichita State offense we saw last season, especially without Early. In 2013-14, the Shockers were getting to the free-throw line an average of 25.8 times per game in the regular season (43rd nationally) and made 73 percent (61st nationally). This season has seen fewer trips to the line and a far worse percentage. Wichita State is only getting to the free-throw line 21.7 times per game (131st nationally) and struggling to 65.8 percent shooting (252nd nationally). That means the Shockers are losing 4.5 points per game at the free-throw line per game compared to last season. Without Cleanthony Early to consistently get to the free-throw line, the Shockers just can’t get it done. They only attempted two free throws in the loss to George Washington and settled for a lot of jumpers.
  • But it might not because: Wichita State still needs time to gel and figure out its rotation and players on the floor at the end of games who can make free throws. It doesn’t help that Baker, Cotton and Van Vleet are all shooting uncharacteristically low percentages compared to last season and those numbers should ideally improve as the season continues. Also, Wichita State has a lot of young players coming off of the bench this season. Those players could find a better understanding of attacking defenses, drawing fouls and making free throws and the Shockers could really use a slasher who can consistently get to the basket.

Wichita State’s offensive struggles highlighted by come-from-behind win vs. Alabama

Fred Van Vleet (AP Photo)
Fred Van Vleet (AP Photo)

No. 11 Wichita State won a thriller over Alabama last, using a 13-1, press-fueled run to knock off the Crimson Tide, 53-52, on a Darius Carter dunk with 11 seconds left in front of a raucous and intimidating Koch Center.

I guess the students got Gregg Marshall’s message.

Over the last five minutes of that game, Wichita State forced four turnovers and held Alabama to just one point while grabbing three huge offensive rebounds during that stretch. It’s the kind of win that we expect Wichita State to get in their own gym, one that was very much predicted by a writer that sees this team play more than most. There are things that you can question about the Shockers, but toughness certainly isn’t one of them.

And while Alabama looked like a team that could end up being a top four-finisher in the SEC this season, they also did a pretty fantastic job of highlighting just what Marshall and his team miss with Cleanthony Early in the professional ranks.

Early was undoubtedly the most talented player on the Shocker roster last season. Standing 6-foot-8, Early played the four for Wichita State, as he had just enough strength and athleticism that he wasn’t going to get manhandled at that spot. Offensively, however, Early was more of a natural three, a guy that not only had three-point range but the perimeter skill and explosiveness to beat people off the dribble. Anyone that saw the Kentucky-Wichita State thriller in the Round of 32 of last year’s NCAA tournament can attest to that.

Defenses had to be aware of where he was at all times. They had to game-plan for him and figure out a way that they could slow down an NBA small forward with a college four-man.

It created an easily exploitable mismatch, one that Marshall no longer has the luxury of using. In Early’s stead is veteran Evan Wessel, a decent shooter that’s “just-a-guy”, and freshman Rashard Kelly, who is a promising prospect but not yet ready to give the Shockers half of what Early gave them.

And as good as Tekele Cotton is defensively, as important as he is to what Wichita State does, he’s no more of an offensive threat than he was last year. He’ll knock down some open threes — he was 0-for-4 against Alabama — and he’ll throw down some impressive dunks, but there’s not a coach in the country that will lose sleep trying to figure out how to stop Cotton.

The result is that the Shockers are going to go through stretches this season where scoring will not come easy to them.

I love Fred Van Vleet. He’s as good of a college point guard as you are going to find, but he’s a good-not-great shooter — he’s down to 25.8 percent from three and 39.6 perfect from the field this year — that isn’t a plus-athlete. He’s a guy you ideally want initiating offense and running a team, attacking closeouts and defensive rotations created by Early and Ron Baker, not a guy being asked to carry a heavy-load offensively.

But that’s what he’s going to have to be this season.

Now, to his credit, Baker is having a terrific season, and Darius Carter has proven to be a real threat in the low post. Their improvement is part of the reason that the Shockers will likely remain in and around the top 20, at the least, throughout the season. And that’s to say nothing of the fact that Wichita State can lock down defensively as well as anyone.

They certainly aren’t “bad”.

But instead of being a real Final Four contender and one of the nation’s elite, like they were last season, this Shocker team is just another group trying to find a way to win a league title and play their way out of the NCAA tournament’s opening weekend.

No. 11 Wichita State rallies from 11 down to beat Alabama thanks to Van Vleet (VIDEO)

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Wichita State didn’t have any business winning on Tuesday night at home against Alabama. The No. 11 Shockers were outplayed for a large chunk of the second half and found themselves in a grind-it-out game against the Crimson Tide.

Finding themselves down 51-40 with 5:54 left after a Shannon Hale three-pointer, Wichita State ramped up its full-court pressure and didn’t allow another field goal the rest of the game as Shocker forward Darius Carter’s dunk with 12 seconds left was the go-ahead bucket in a thrilling 53-52 win. The victory gives the Shockers (8-1) 23 consecutive home wins and they needed nearly every second of this one to keep that streak alive. It also marked the second consecutive game that Wichita State rallied from a double-digit, second-half deficit to win as the Shockers beat Detroit on the road last week.

On a night where both teams slowed it down and worked long half-court possessions, the Crimson Tide took control with a 25-24 lead at the end of the first half and led until the go-ahead Carter dunk at the end of the game. Alabama’s defense contained Wichita State’s offense and limited them to jumpers and contested looks until the final six minutes, when Shocker guards Ron Baker (14 points) and Fred VanVleet (nine points, seven rebounds, five assists) were finally able to make some plays off-the-dribble and finish at the rim.

Once the Tide’s main rim protector, Jimmie Taylor, fouled out with 4:27 left, Baker and VanVleet finished with more consistency around the basket and attacked the lane with ferocity. Carter was also able to free up for the big dunk for the win off of a VanVleet drive and assist at the end of the game and Carter’s team-high 16 points were huge on a night where senior guard Tekele Cotton was cold and went scoreless. Wichita State still looks like they are trying to find a consistent offensive identity without Cleanthony Early on the wing this season.

The offense struggled for much of Tuesday, but the Shockers used their experience and the backing of a tremendous home crowd to will their way to victory. They never got rattled, their pressure defense came through when it mattered and the big-name guys stepped up in the clutch.

Wichita State isn’t as talented or as dynamic as last season with Early, but these two second-half comeback wins show that this team can still make big plays and rally around each other in the final minutes of a game to pull out a victory.

As for Alabama, they need to figure out their press-break situation and find a reliable third option who can remain consistent. The Crimson Tide should be encouraged that they stuck with a top-15 team on the road but these are the types of games you can’t let slip away. If Alabama considers itself a NCAA Tournament team, guard play will be key for them in the SEC this season if they match up against a talented backcourt.