No. 10 Shockers enter season with high expectations again
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) The players who took Wichita State to the Final Four three years ago are seniors now, their youthful exuberance now bolstered by the wisdom of experience.
Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker and their buddies have won enough conference championships to fill Charles Koch Arena to the brim. They ousted Kansas from the NCAA Tournament last March. And in doing so, they succeeded in putting the Shockers back on the college basketball map.
Not that anybody has paused to reflect on all of it.
''I haven't been that sentimental about it yet,'' coach Gregg Marshall said. ''I'm just ready to get this team ready for its own season of success.
''We try to cement each team's year as its own legacy,'' Marshall explained. ''These seniors have certainly had a lot of success. They've seen a lot of winning and banners hung, so they're probably more cognizant of it than I am. I hope we have a great season, and the goal is that we'll continue (our success) into the future.''
There are plenty of reasons to believe it will continue at least one more season.
VanVleet and Baker are potential All-Americans, a duo that forms arguably the best backcourt in the nation. Throw in fellow senior Evan Wessel, you have three players who have been through some of the most pressure-packed games that Wichita State has ever played.
''Expectations are high, we don't plan on losing a game all year,'' VanVleet said. ''We feel like we have a chance to win every game on our schedule, and that's what we're going to try to do.''
They'll have some talented newcomers to help: Cleveland State transfer Anton Grady, former Kansas sharpshooter Conner Frankamp and one of the most talented recruiting classes Marshall has assembled, highlighted by 6-foot-4 guard Landry Shamet and 6-8 forward Markis McDuffie.
Frankamp will be eligible in December. Everybody else is ready to go after a season in which the Shockers beat Indiana and Kansas in the NCAA Tournament before falling to Notre Dame in the Sweet 16.
''There's been a great history of winning lately (at Wichita State),'' Grady said. ''When I talked to Coach Marshall, I had a good feeling. I felt like I could come in and fill what he said the team needed. I felt like it was a really good fit for me.''
The No. 10 Shockers open the season Nov. 13 against Charleston Southern, part of a non-conference slate that includes games against Saint Louis, UNLV and Utah leading into Missouri Valley play.
As the season approaches, here are a few things to keep in mind:
STAYING IN SCHOOL: VanVleet and Baker both considered leaving for the draft, but ultimately they decided to stick around for their final season. ''I don't think I was ready to be done with college,'' Baker said. ''We're looking for bigger accomplishments this year.''
STAYING AT SCHOOL: VanVleet and Baker weren't the only ones who thought about leaving. Marshall had interest from Alabama and Texas. But he decided to stay at Wichita State instead, signing a new seven-year deal worth about $3.3 million annually. ''Once coach said he was staying, Fred told me he was staying, about 30 minutes later I called coach and said I was staying too,'' Baker said.
THE FRONTCOURT: The Shockers are experienced inside, too. Six-foot-11 senior Bush Wamukota, 6-10 forward Rauno Nurger and 6-8 forward Shaquille Morris all played meaningful minutes last season. Wessel, at 6-4, is also a tenacious rebounder.
WHO LEFT: The Shockers will have to fill the void left by senior guard Tekele Cotton, one of the nation's top defenders, and forward Darius Carter, who provided leadership for the rest of the post players. The duo combined to average more than 20 points and nearly 10 rebounds.
NO SURPRISES: Since 2010, the Shockers have won 151 games. They've won three regular-season Valley titles and the conference tournament. They went 5-0 in the postseason NIT, and have won seven games in the NCAA Tournament. They've won at least 30 games each of the past three seasons, going 35-1 two years ago. In other words, good luck trying to sneak up on anybody.