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Commentary Bob Lutz: VanVleet keeps foot on pedal for Shockers

  • Published Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014, at 6:20 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014, at 10:36 a.m.

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Gregg Marshall doesn’t call many timeouts because he has players like sophomore guard Fred VanVleet.

“And I usually don’t have much good to say,” Marshall said.

But if there was ever a time for Wichita State’s coach to at least think about signaling for some time, it was while watching the Shockers falling behind Northern Iowa, 12-2, in the early going of Sunday afternoon’s game at Koch Arena.

Marshall didn’t, though. He knew a media timeout was approaching and he trusts his players enough to know they’ll eventually figure it out without his meddling.

Sure enough, that’s what happened. The Shockers figured it out.

VanVleet had a huge day. Cleanthony Early kept up his offensive hot streak and the Shockers went to work stifling the Northern Iowa offense on a day when WSU’s offense wasn’t so hot.

VanVleet scored 22 points and had a couple of moments in the second half when he and the sellout crowd needed to get a room, such was the mutual love.

After one of his patented drives to the basket resulted in a twisting, turning shot and accompanying foul, the infatuation spilled over.

Shocker fans stood to loudly express their approval. And just as they were starting to sit down, VanVleet motioned for more.

“It’s electric,” said the normally stoic VanVleet, who implied that that stoicism is more of an image, not a reality. “It’s amazing what this place can do to your body. And the effect it has on other teams, as well as ours.”

VanVleet has a way of finding just an inch or to that he’s able to squeeze through on his drives to the basket. But the crazy thing is how the 5-foot-11 VanVleet gets swallowed up by interior defenders, then seeing the basketball appear on an upward arc.

More often than not, VanVleet makes those shots.

“I don’t know how I do it, either,” he said. “It just happens.”

And when it does, the Shocker crowd goes crazy.

VanVleet is getting better and better as a point guard and he’s only a sophomore. How much better can he be?

He’s a distributor and a defender, in the Marshall mold. He’s not at 77 assists for the season, with only 18 turnovers.

VanVleet didn’t have a single turnover against Northern Iowa, just like he didn’t have a single turnover against Southern Illinois or Davidson in the Shockers’ two previous games.

A point guard not turning over the basketball is like a pitcher hurling a shutout. And VanVleet has six shutouts this season.

He can also knock down shots. He was 2 of 4 from the three-point line Sunday and is now over 47 percent for the season. For good measure, VanVleet is also an 87 percent free-throw shooter (47 of 54).

But nothing VanVleet does excites the home crowd like one of his patented journeys into the crowded paint, where it appears he’s been swallowed up, only to come up with some miraculous shot and more often than not a three-point play.

“I just have to pick my spots,” VanVleet said. “We’re spacing the floor well and I think teams respect the fact that I’m going to find guys. So they have to figure out what they want to take away, whether it’s me finding guys or getting into the lane. And I think the fact I’ve been shooting the ball pretty well recently has helped, too.”

In other words -— and VanVleet’s far too gracious to say this so I’ll say it for him — he’s almost unguardable.

It was a VanVleet three-point early in the game, part of an 8-0, that pulled Wichita State even with the Panthers, 14-14, after a dreadful start.

But not dreadful enough for Marshall to get a timeout. It’s just not something he does, at least in this country.

It was difference once when the Shockers were in Brazil for an exhibition tour almost three years ago.

“Down there you couldn’t call a timeout during a live ball, you had to wait until there was a dead ball,” Marshall said. “So I had our point guard, I think it was (Joe) Ragland at the time, dribble the ball over toward me. We were on the offensive end and the play was in front of us and he thought I was going to give him a play to run. But I actually grabbed the ball from him and threw it out of bounds.

“So that’s a myth that I won’t call a timeout.”

Maybe.

But Marshall is a miser when it comes to timeouts. That’s because he knows the Shockers are better when time is in and the ball is in VanVleet’s hands.

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

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