By Matthew Budkofsky
Wichita State has become a powerhouse in college basketball, and after their win against the University of Kansas in the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament, they have shown the world that they are no longer little brothers to the Jayhawks anymore. With the win over Kansas, the Shockers will advance to their second Sweet 16 appearance in the past 3 seasons. The motor of the team thus far has been junior point guard Fred Van Vleet. He has played so well, that he has been chosen for this week’s Athlete of the Week.
In 2 games in the tournament so far, VanVleet has averaged 22 ppg on 43% shooting, 5 apg, 4 rpg, and 3 spg. He has done it all for the Shockers on both ends of the court and has really carried them in the backcourt as Ron Baker has yet to hit his stride. VanVleet is a rare case in college basketball because he is a junior who is still a major contributor to his team. In this day and age of college basketball, it has become rare to see elite players stay in college for more than 2 years. When Wichita State faces off against Notre Dame this weekend, VanVleet will be playing in his 10th NCAA Tournament game. No player on Duke or Kentucky has played in more than 8.
For VanVleet and the Shockers, they seem to perform better when they are the underdogs. 2 seasons ago, the Shockers made a remarkable run to the Final Four as a 9 seed. Last season, they finished the regular season undefeated, but lost to Kentucky in the 3rd round of the tournament as a 1 seed. If this logic holds true, the Shockers could be poised to be the team that knocks off Kentucky.
If VanVleet can maintain his level of play, Wichita State is going to be a tough out in this year’s tournament. We have seen veteran point guards carry their teams to championships (Shabazz Napier anyone?) and VanVleet could potentially be that guy to carry the Shockers to the promised land. Nobody wants to play against a team with the leadership and experience that the Shockers have. If guys like Ron Baker start to follow suit, Wichita State could be the team that shocks the world.