If Wichita State cruises into March undefeated, a great deal of that would be due the emergence of sophomore Fred VanVleet.
One of this season's breakout stars, the 5'11 guard is a big reason the Shockers are considered to be a better team than last season's Final Four squad. Running the point this season, VanVleet has become the primary distributor for Ken Pomeroy's 20th-best adjusted offense in the nation.
A true sophomore, the Illinois native is averaging 12.8 points and 5.2 assists on the season. VanVleet backed up Malcolm Armstead during the Shockers' Final Four run last season, but has already surpassed the production of the departed senior. His percentages are up all over the board, as he's hitting 49 percent of his shots a year after shooting 39 percent, plus he's draining 46 percent of his there-pointers. He also leads the team in minutes, logging over 32 per game.
Forward Cleanthony Early puts up the gaudier stats, but VanVleet is the catalyst when Wichita has the ball. Combining his field goals and assists, VanVleet is directly involved in 35 percent of the Shockers' made baskets. Uncharacteristic for a player in his first year as a starting point guard, VanVleet takes great care of the ball. He has two or fewer turnovers in each of the Shockers' last 10 games, with exactly zero turnovers in five of those 10 contests.
VanVleet's scoring average is good enough for second on the team, tied with fellow second-year player Ron Baker. The two are an ideal backcourt, with Baker more than happy to play off the ball and get open looks from the three-point line. Add in junior Tekele Cotton, and the Shockers have the most improved guard play of any team in the country. Combine that with stability and experience in the frontcourt, and Wichita State will be one of the most balanced teams in the NCAA Tournament.