#11 Wichita State by Mike Rutherford

Photo: Harry How/Getty Images

Much to the chagrin of the rest of the Midwest, it's not over yet.

Wichita State is still in the midst of one of the greatest runs in Missouri Valley history thanks to the return of head coach Gregg Marshall, which played a large part in the returns of stars Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet. The dynamic backcourt duo (along with the graduated Tekele Cotton) have been at the center of a three-year run that has seen the Shockers go 90-15, crash a Final Four, take out regional ruler Kansas on their way to the Sweet 16 and become the first team in 23 years to enter the NCAA Tournament with an unblemished record.

Now, with Marshall spurning hefty offers from both Texas and Alabama, and VanVleet and Baker delaying their professional careers for a year, the Shockers appear poised to snatch their third straight Missouri Valley title and remain a major player on the national scene.

Even though he has arguably the best backcourt in college basketball at his disposal, Marshall still faces the tall task of replacing talented starters Cotton and Darius Carter. The transfers of former Kansas guard Conner Frankamp (eligible for the second semester) and former Texas A&M guard Peyton Allen add depth to the backcourt, while former Cleveland State forward Anton Grady will be relied upon heavily to be the Shockers' frontcourt star from day one.

What seemed like a flash in the pan deal when Wichita State crashed the national semifinals in 2013 has now extended into a fourth season. As much as the rest of the Missouri Valley wishes the opposite were true, American can't shake the Shockers.

How the Shockers can succeed: With unmatched experience and arguably the nation's top backcourt

Much to the surprise and chagrin of everyone on Wichita State's 2015-16 slate, Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker are back for one last run. Most assumed the pair, or at least one, would make the jump to the NBA last spring, especially with the likelihood of Gregg Marshall exploring just how green the grass outside of Wichita is higher than it had ever been before. Marshall ultimately chose to sign a new seven-year deal with WSU, and his backcourt stars signed a figurative one-year deal with the program soon after.

Baker, an Associated Press honorable mention All-American last season, may have been the best player on that United States' Pan American Games team this summer, starting all five games for an American squad that captured the bronze medal at the event. Baker, who averaged 14.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.3 steals as a junior in 2014-15, has been named to the watch list for the Jerry West Shooting Guard of the Year Award, and is likely to receive some All-American love when those honors are released in the next few weeks.

VanVleet also figures to be featured prominently on any list of preseason All-Americans. After averaging 23 points and 4.3 assists per game during Wichita State's 2015 NCAA Tournament run, VanVleet, the 2014 MVC Player of the Year, enters his senior season already owning the title of being the Shockers' all-time assist leader. He has ranked in the top 10 nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio in each of the past two seasons, and has been named to the Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year Award Watch List.

While Baker and VanVleet have been at or near the center of everything positive that has happened with Wichita State basketball the past three seasons, they aren't the only Shockers who enter the 2015-16 season with a high level of experience. Anton Grady may have never played in the NCAA Tournament, but he's averaged double digits as a starter in each of his three seasons of college basketball (at Cleveland State). Evan Wessel, the fourth senior in WSU's projected startling lineup, hasn't put up any sparkling numbers during his career as a Shocker, but he's a returning starter who has averaged big minutes (when healthy) since he arrived on campus in 2012.

How Wichita State can go home early: A lack of frontcourt depth bites them

As good as Baker and VanVleet both are, they've always had a talented frontcourt player to make sure there was ample space and inside respect for them to do their things. This is where Cleveland State transfer Anton Grady comes in.

Grady will remind those who remember the 2013 Final Four team well a bit of former Shocker star (and current New York Knick) Cleanthony Early. Grady was a three-year starter at Cleveland State, averaging career highs of 14.3 points, 7.9 boards, 1.5 steals and 1.4 blocks per game last season. He defends, he gets to the line a lot, and he can score both around the rim and outside of the lane.

But what if something happens to Grady? The senior has undergone three knee surgeries, which have already transformed the once explosive leaper and outside shooter's game into more of a veteran NBA center's game, where he spends most of his time with his back to the basket. Or let's go with the more likely case of Grady getting into foul trouble in a big game, where does Gregg Marshall turn then? As far as the Shockers being a serious national title contender, that would seem to be the million dollar question.

Rashard Kelly is a tough-minded 6'7 forward who became a fan favorite as a freshman for how aggressively he pursued the ball. While that's a great skill to have, Kelly also looked awkward more times than not once he got the ball in his hands and was asked to do something with it. He's worked hard to fix that issue, spending the summer getting bigger and quicker and polishing his offensive skills. Marshall has said multiple times this offseason that he believes Kelly is his most improved player.

Reserve big men Shaq Morris and Rauno Nurger both figure to weigh heavily in whatever Wichita State achieves this season. Morris is seen as a star of the future for the Shockers, who is a serious low-post scoring threat who just needs to get in a little bit better shape before he makes that breakthrough. Nurger is a center most-known for his ability to shoot the ball from beyond the arc. While that's not an ideal skill for a big man on a team headlined by its backcourt, it does give Marshall the luxury of being able to throw a different look at a team with a set defensive plan for bottling up Baker and VanVleet.

Despite the frontcourt experience not being quite as high as Marshall would like, there's still enough there to not view it as a gigantic red flag. The Shockers are talented, they are deep and they will be right in the Final Four conversation for the next five months. Oh, and they also have a pretty talented freshman class, so they might not be falling out of the national picture anytime soon.

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