It’s not every day that a mid-major has the best backcourt in the nation.
But then again, Wichita State isn’t your average mid-major team.
All-American guards Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker enter their senior season at Wichita State with a chance to become the winningest players in program history. If they do so, it would be a perfect ending to their illustrious collegiate careers.
Read more about Baker and VanVleet’s story here.
Few players have experienced as much success as Baker and VanVleet at Wichita State during the past three seasons.
The Shockers began their dominance with a Cinderella run to the 2013 Final Four, and followed it up with a perfect 31-0 record during the 2013-14 regular season that earned the program its first No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament in school history.
But despite all of the team’s recent success, the Shockers have been unable to return to another Final Four.
However, this season could prove to be different. The Shockers return most of last year’s roster, and are talented and experienced enough to return to a second Final Four in four seasons.
The Shockers may have only lost two players from last year’s rotation, but their departures leave Wichita State with two major holes on the roster.
Cotton was an athletic defensive-specialist who was part of the most successful four-year stretch in program history. He made a name for himself by being the Shockers’ best defensive player, but also contributed a great deal on the offensive end as well.
Cotton was a three-year starter, two-time MVC all-defensive team selection, and a member of the 1,000 point club at WSU. His contributions and leadership will be hard to replace, especially on the defensive end, where the Shockers must find another ball stopper.
Meanwhile, Carter was a junior college transfer who only played two seasons at Wichita State, but made a big impact during his short tenure.
Entering his senior season, Carter was the only returning post player on the WSU roster with any significant experience at the NCAA Division I level.
Because of the lack of frontcourt depth, Wichita State often utilized a four-guard lineup last season, with Carter as the only true post player on the floor. Carter responded to the pressure by having a superb year, averaging 11.4 ppg and 5.4 rpg.
Carter’s departure puts Wichita State in a similar situation as it was entering last season: the Shockers lack experience in the frontcourt, and will be searching for someone to step up and play big minutes in the post.
Cotton and Carter will be hard to replace, but the Shockers welcome two transfers who will likely step right into their roles, as well as a talented freshman class.
Graduate transfer Anton Grady arrives at Wichita State after three impressive seasons at Cleveland State. The do-everything forward will make an immediate impact for the Shockers on both ends of the floor.
At Cleveland State, Grady was the only player in program history to record at least 1,000 career points, 600 rebounds, 100 steals and 100 blocks — and he did it all in three seasons.
Grady should be an upgrade over Carter, and should provide veteran leadership with what is still a young WSU frontcourt.
On the other hand, Frankamp doesn’t have as much experience as Grady, but that doesn’t mean he’s not as talented.
Frankamp played sparingly his freshman season at Kansas, but possesses a strong shooting touch which should help the Shockers immediately. He’s not as gifted defensively or athletically as Cotton, but will impact the game in different ways.
Marshall has called Frankamp one of the best shooters he has ever coached, and said he is “unbelievably skilled.” He will likely step into Cotton’s vacated starting spot, where he will serve as a floor-spacer to give VanVleet more room to drive in the lane.
In addition to Grady and Frankamp, the Shockers have also assembled a strong freshman class, highlighted by blue-chip prospects Landry Shamet and Markis McDuffie. Shamet was ranked as a four-star recruit by Rivals, while ESPN listed McDuffie on its list of Top 100 players.
Expect Shamet, McDuffie and the other freshman to see court time this season, as the Shockers continue to revamp its roster with young talent.
While Wichita State’s nonconference slate leaves much to be desired, it will allow the Shockers to compile another impressive win total headed into what should be a much more competitive Missouri Valley Conference this season.
The Shockers only have a few chances at quality nonconference wins, starting Nov. 17 at Tulsa. Then, December matchups against UNLV, Utah and Seton Hall serves as the other big games before the Shockers open up conference play against Drake on Dec. 31.
Unlike recent years, this season in the Valley should be more than a two-horse race between WSU and Northern Iowa. Northern Iowa will certainly still factor into the mix, but so will Evansville, Illinois State and Loyola.
With talent in the Valley at an all-time high, the Shockers will be tested in conference play. Last season, the Shockers entered the conference tournament as favorites and lost in the semifinals to Illinois State. This season, don’t be surprised if something similar happens, even though Wichita State is still the clear-cut favorite.
Final Preview and Prediction
The backcourt of Baker, VanVleet Frankamp and Evan Wessel is as good as any backcourt group you will be able to find in the country. There’s no question to that. That being said, the success of Wichita State’s season will depend on its frontcourt.
Grady will have a major impact, but he will need help. Redshirt sophomore Shaquille Morris is primed for a breakout season, and a couple of the incoming freshmen have the potential to contribute right away.
If the Shockers can get consistent frontcourt production to go along with its deep, talented backcourt, they’ll have the potential to have another special season. Their schedule is very winnable, although the Valley should be very competitive this season.
As far as expectations go, the Shockers are considered favorites the win the Valley again this season for a reason. They’ll likely win over 25 games again this season, and make another appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
That’s where things will get interesting. Do the Shockers have another Final Four run in them? They certainly have the talent to do so. Whether or not they do is ultimately in their hands.