We already knew that Fred VanVleet is pretty good. What this season has driven home is just how valuable he is to Wichita State, something we had a good idea of, but perhaps not to the degree that we do now.
VanVleet’s injury issues early on have been well-documented. He missed their win over Emporia State due to injury, then didn’t play in the AdvoCare Invitational in Orlando, where the Shockers went 0-3. They whiffed on chances for quality wins in so doing, and they don’t get many of those chances. Fortunately, they had several days off after that. Then he returned, and life has been good.
Real good. In fact, the Shockers have only lost once since that time, a tough 80-76 decision at Seton Hall in December. They knocked off UNLV and Utah, and are 6-0 in Missouri Valley play after VanVleet scored a career-high 29 points and handed out five assists to lead an 82-62 win over Indiana State. Most importantly, they are 10-1 since their floor leader returned.
While this Shocker team didn’t appear to have as strong a cast as the last couple of teams, guards mean everything and the Shockers have VanVleet and Ron Baker, one of the best backcourts in the country. That alone made them a clear preseason favorite, and a team that many felt could earn the wins needed to be in the at-large discussion should they not win the conference tournament. We’ll never know, and how the selection committee evaluates the Shockers and his injury is tough to figure. They probably need to win the conference tournament at this point to make it.
Whether or not the Shockers get in by an automatic bid or somehow get an at-large, if they are healthy it seems clear they are a more dangerous team than they might first appear. VanVleet is experienced, having been a key reserve as a freshman on their Final Four team, conference Player of the Year as a sophomore when they were undefeated entering the NCAA Tournament, and a big part of last season’s Sweet 16 team. Baker leads them in scoring, and the support cast is still pretty good with the likes of a healthy Anton Grady, Connor Frankamp, Zach Brown and talented freshman Markis McDuffie.
VanVleet’s value to Wichita State has never been clearer. With him healthy, they are clearly the team to beat. If he gets re-injured, it’s a good bet they can be toppled.
Utah came back from a slow start to beat Oregon State 59-53, but that wasn’t the big news. Rather, it was Oregon State forward Jarmal Reid making a rash decision after he was upset about something that happened on a play with under three minutes to go. Reid stole the ball, then thought he was fouled as he tried to dribble and looked at referee Tommy Nunez as he passed the ball to a teammate. He then tried to trip Nunez, earning a Flagrant 2 foul. Utah then took its first lead of the game and was in control the rest of the way. Reports indicate that Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott will review the incident, and disciplinary action could come from it.
The Big Ten continues to be unpredictable, and Sunday continued that. Wisconsin picked up the biggest win in the young Greg Gard era, beating Michigan State 77-76 as Bronson Koenig had another big game against the Spartans with 27 points. Meanwhile, Iowa concluded a great week by beating Michigan 82-71 behind another big game from Jarrod Uthoff (23 points).
A near double-double from Dwayne Bacon (18 points, nine rebounds) led Florida State to a 69-62 win over Virginia in Tallahassee. The Seminoles overcame a three-point halftime deficit to pull out a big win and move both teams to 2-3 in the ACC.
In other games of note, SMU remained undefeated by winning at Tulane 60-45, while Colorado beat Oregon 91-87 and Southern Illinois keeps pace with Wichita State with an 81-76 win at Drake to improve to 5-1 in Missouri Valley play.
As usual, this is a relatively light day, although it gets a boost from the great games at the Spalding Hoophall Classic, most of which are on TV.
- In the ACC, Syracuse heads to Cameron Indoor Stadium to take on Duke.
- In the Big 12, TCU hosts Texas Tech and Oklahoma visits Iowa State in the best matchup of the day.
- Rutgers hosts Purdue in the Big Ten’s lone game of the day.
- Other conferences with busy slates include America East, Horizon League, MEAC, Southland and SWAC.