By Andrew Kahn
Wichita State doesn’t mind letting the shot clock run down to single digits. The Shockers’ average possession length is 18 seconds; only 34 percent of Division I teams hold the ball for longer. And yet their offensive efficiency remains high because of the play of sophomore point guard Fred VanVleet. “He doesn’t get rattled when the clock gets low,” Wichita coach Gregg Marshall said. “Sometimes he’s in a one-on-one situation and he keeps his dribble alive because he knows he can shake the defender and get a decent shot or create for others.”
A back-up to Malcolm Armstead on last year’s Final Four team, VanVleet has helped lead Wichita to a 25-0 record and No. 4 ranking. Last week, he guided Wichita to two impressive road wins in the Missouri Valley Conference. Compared to last year, he’s averaging twice as many minutes (32.5 per game), nearly three times as many points (12), and more than twice as many assists (5.2). With his ability to shoot from deep (42 percent), finish around the rim, and run an offense (nearly a 4:1 assist-to-turnover ratio), what more could you ask for in a point guard?
ESPN analyst Mark Adams can’t think of anything. He has called several of Wichita’s games this season and said he’d take VanVleet first if he were starting a team from scratch. At the very least, VanVleet is one of the favorites, along with teammate Cleanthony Early, for MVC Player of the Year.
Among players with as many assists as VanVleet has, nobody outside of Syracuse’s Tyler Ennis comes even close to matching his low turnover rate. In fact, those two young point guards have very similar numbers across the board and both made the USBWA midseason Player of the Year watch list. It’s no coincidence Wichita and Syracuse are undefeated.
Evansville coach Marty Simmons said VanVleet “has the poise of a senior.” His maturity may stem from having to grow up quickly after his father was shot to death when VanVleet was five. While not a top recruit, he was the only MVC player in his class ranked in the Rivals top 150. That he has morphed into a leader of one of the country’s best teams in such a short time is remarkable.
VanVleet averages two steals per game and is part of the reason Wichita’s defense is eighth-best in the country, according to KenPom.com. The Shockers overcame a 19-point second-half deficit against Missouri State on Jan. 11 and won in overtime thanks to holding the Bears to 22 second-half points and VanVleet scoring 12 of Wichita’s final 13 points.
At the end of the shot clock—or a close game—there may be no better player with the ball in his hands. Drake coach Ray Giacoletti, who faced VanVleet earlier this season and in last year’s NCAA Tournament while an assistant at Gonzaga, has witnessed him make the right decision in those situations time and time again. “He’s never rushed or panicked. You feel very comfortable with the ball in his hands. He makes that team go.”
Andrew Kahn is a contributor to CBS Local Sports who also writes for Newsday and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about college basketball and other sports at AndrewJKahn.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn
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