Finally, Wichita State’s basketball team, after four seasons of Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet, is getting good guard play.
Ron and Fred? Yeah, we vaguely remember them. Aren’t they in the NBA or something?
Replacing those Shocker icons and three-time All-Missouri Valley Conference guards was supposed to be the challenge of the 2016-17 season for WSU coach Gregg Marshall. And if we’re being honest here, it’s far too early to say that mission has been accomplished.
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But the blast-off sure has been spectacular.
It’s not going to be Ron and Fred in the backcourt this season.
It’s going to be Conner, Landry, Daishon and Austin — Frankamp, Shamet, Smith and Reaves.
Wichita State’s guards combined for 48 points on 16-of-26 shooting as the Shockers pounded Long Beach State 92-55 at Koch Arena on Sunday night.
A 49-point win over South Carolina State, accomplished Friday night, is one thing. But ganging up on the Beach, as the 49ers like to be called, was not expected.
Long Beach won 11 of 12 games last season before losing in the championship game of the Big West Tournament by four points to Hawaii and in the first round of the NIT to Washington by five.
The 49ers did suffer losses by 21, 15 and 22 points last season, but those were to Oregon, Arizona and Duke. Marshall expected a fight to the finish. Instead, the 49ers put up a fight for a half before WSU outscored them 49-22 in the second half.
Marshall, who of course expected growing pains from a team that lost its identity and two best players, was beaming after Sunday’s win. I asked if it would be fair to describe him as “giddy.” He wanted none of that.
At least not yet.
But it’s safe to say Marshall likes what he sees from the Shockers in the first two games. It’s been a fun and somewhat bewildering start, but bewildering in a good way. Bewildering in a “can you believe we’re this good?” way.
“We prepared pretty hard after the game Friday and our guys took it to heart about what a good team Long Beach State is,” Marshall said. “They’re the prohibitive favorites to win the Big West.”
That’s because the Shockers aren’t in the Big West.
Put aside what the Wichita State guards did offensively Sunday night and get this: Long Beach’s starting guards — 6-foot-1 Evan Payne and 5-8 Justin Bibbins — made 3 of 24 shots and missed all nine of their three-pointers.
Marshall salivates when defense is even mentioned at a party, so you know how much he loved watching the Shockers’ effort Sunday which limited Long Beach to 31.3-percent shooting and 10 percent (2 of 20) from beyond the three-point line.
The 6-4 Shamet is showing early signs of being a lock-down defender. Frankamp, who now has nearly two years in Marshall’s defense-first boot camp, is playing D like he’s never played it before. Smith is using his quickness to stay in front of opposing guards and the 6-5 Reaves has the reach to be a defensive nuisance.
“We just need to keep those guys healthy, keep getting them better,” Marshall said. “Landry played a tremendous floor game and was our ace defender. And Daishon changed the game with his defense. Austin looked like a seasoned veteran out there and Conner took care of the basketball.”
Wichita State’s big guys showed up, too, but it was a night for the guards. And for this night, at least, they played well enough to make you think that just maybe Baker and VanVleet can be replaced adequately.
Remember, Marshall has a great track record with guards and it started before Baker or VanVleet arrived on campus. Toure Murry, Clevin Hannah, Joe Ragland, Malcolm Armstead — and that’s just getting started.
Next guard up.
These guards, though, have relatively little experience. Shamet played in only three games last season before going down with an injury. Frankamp got some action, but he was in the back seat while Baker and VanVleet took turns driving. Smith was in junior college and Reaves was scoring tons of points at an Arkansas high school.
Baker and VanVleet played in 265 combined games and were on the floor for 7,571 minutes. They were consummate Shockers and they consumed the basketball program.
There was logical thought that it would take some time for the 2016-17 team to find itself, and there is still a case to be made for that way of thinking. Two games, after all, is two games.
Still, it’s impossible not to like what the Shockers are showing so far, especially from this new backcourt.
Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss?