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Commentary Bob Lutz: VanVleet and Baker have chance to join elite WSU guard tandems

  • Published Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, at 9:07 p.m.
  • Updated Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, at 8:41 a.m.


Which is the best guard tandem in Shocker history?

It’s early and they’re still mixing chemicals together to see what works, but sophomore guard Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker have a legitimate chance to become Wichita State’s best guard tandem in a long time.

No, they didn’t have their best games Saturday during the Shockers’ 85-71 win over Tennessee State at Koch Arena. VanVleet and Baker were a combined 4 of 18 from the field. But Baker did have eight assists and seven rebounds and VanVleet had six assists.

VanVleet is a true point guard who does everything the great point guards do. And Baker, a shooting guard, can also play the point if VanVleet needs a breather. They’re both outstanding defenders, better-than-average shooters, despite what they displayed Saturday, and all-around good guys. They will etch a place in Shocker history.

Remember, too, that Wichita State’s guard history is spotty. Not that there haven’t been some outstanding Shocker guards, but none of the five players whose jerseys are retired — Cleo Littleton, Dave Stallworth, Antoine Carr, Cliff Levington and Xavier McDaniel — were guards.

In fact, it’s not easy to pick the best Shocker guard in history. You can make a case for 6-foot-2 Warren Armstrong, who played for Gary Thompson during the mid- to late-1960s. But he was a hybrid, evidenced by his ability as a rebounder (seventh all-time) and passer (second all-time in assists). Armstrong loved playing inside and had the physical goods, even at his height, to succeed in there.

The best Wichita State guard? I’d probably go with either Ernie Moore or Kelly Pete, both part of the Shockers’ successful teams under Ralph Miller in the early-1960s and teammates for a few games during the 1963-64 season before Moore’s eligibility ran out.

As far as guard tandems go, here’s one man’s Top 10. There should come a day when VanVleet and Baker crack this list.

1. Kelly Pete-Leonard Kelley, 1963-64 — I still contend the ‘63-’64 team was better than the team that reached the Final Four the following season. Pete and Kelley combined to average nearly 29 points and were exceptional defenders. It’s a shame that Kelley, one of the most underrated players in Shocker history, isn’t in the school’s athletic hall of fame.

2. Lanny Van Eman-Ernie Moore, 1960-61, 1961-62 — Moore was a dynamic guard out of Kansas City and Van Eman averaged 13.5, 14.0 and 16.9 points in his three seasons.

3. Tony Martin-Aubrey Sherrod, 1981-82 —This team was loaded and included Carr and Levington in the frontcourt. Sherrod was just a freshman, but averaged 11 points thanks to the floor leadership of Martin, the floor general for teams that went 49-13 during his two seasons.

4. Joe Ragland-Toure Murry, 2011-12, 2012-13 — Ragland and Murry were in the backcourt when the Shockers exploded under Coach Gregg Marshall. WSU won the NIT in their first season together as guards and made the NCAA Tournament in the second, although the Shockers were beaten in the first round by VCU in Portland.

5. Paul Scheer-Gary Thompson, 1951-52, 1952-53, 1953-54 — Scheer and Thompson, native Wichitans, were seniors on the Wichita State team that went 27-4 and made the NIT in 1953-54. Thompson later coached the Shockers. They were the backcourt starters for three seasons and Scheer averaged 11.9 points during his career.

6. Tony Martin-Randy Smithson, 1980-81 — That’s twice for Martin on this list. He and Smithson combined for 25.5 points per game and were instrumental in the Shockers’ run into the Sweet 16. Smithson, who also later coached Wichita State, made two historic free throws in a second-round NCAA Tournament game against Iowa at then-Levitt Arena that will forever be etched in the minds of Shockers fans who were at the game.

7. Matt Braeuer-Sean Ogirri, 2005-06, 2006-07 — These are the guys who helped Wichita State reach the Sweet 16 in 2006, one of the most electric seasons in WSU history because of what it signified. WSU had been a doormat for quite a few seasons before Mark Turgeon arrived in 2000 and rebuilt the Shockers into a force. The Sweet 16 was a culmination.

8. Cal Bruton-Bob Trogele, 1975-76 — This was one of my all-time favorite teams and all-time favorite guard duos. The 5-foot-9 Bruton led a team that featured center Robert Elmore, forwards Robert Gray and Cheese Johnson and Trogele, a freshman who averaged almost 10 points.

9. Clevin Hannah-Toure Murry, 2008-09, 2009-10 — Hannah will be remembered as an instrumental player in the Shockers’ turnaround under Gregg Marshall, who was in his second season when Hannah arrived as a junior college transfer. The improvement from 17-17 to 25-10 happened on Hannah’s watch and during Murry’s first two seasons.

10. Greg Carney-Ron Mendell, 1967-68, 1968-69 — Warren Armstrong was a part of the mix in the backcourt in 1967-68 and I’ll never understand how that team went 12-14. OK, maybe it’s because of the guys on the frontcourt. Both Carney and Mendell could score; they combined for 36.3 points per game in 1968-69.

Honorable mention — It’s not fair to put together a list like this and not mention Joe Stevens, a prolific Shocker guard from 1955-58 who ranks as the team’s No. 20 all-time scorer and averaged 16.6 points during his career. Stevens is definitely one of the top five guards in WSU history.

Reach Bob Lutz at 316-268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @boblutz.

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