Point guards are No. 1 in the common basketball labeling system, signaling where offensive plays start and denoting their importance in most duties.
Wichita State operated with clear No. 1’s in recent seasons — Clevin Hannah, Joe Ragland, Malcolm Armstead, Fred VanVleet.
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This season, after months of questions and curiosity about the next No. 1, coach Gregg Marshall found the answer in a pair of 1.5’s — junior Conner Frankamp and redshirt freshman Landry Shamet. While neither are pure point guards, their skills are versatile enough that they complement and amplify each other and direct one of the nation’s best offenses.
Marshall’s always highlighted his affection for and the importance of point guards in his system. He likes to stockpile player with those skills and his use of numerous plays makes their role more difficult and more important than on some teams. The departure of VanVleet and Ron Baker opened the position in a way it hadn’t been open in years — Who could replace two NBA guards?
“We lost 40 minutes of point-guard play, and it’s crucial,” Marshall said. “They both can do it, but Landry has a little more north-south to his game. We wanted Conner to look for shots.”
The answer took into late January for Shamet and Frankamp to settle into — and then excel — at their roles. While there’s always competition for minutes, the pairing appears poised to lead the Shockers into March. Shamet plays point guard most of the time, especially when the Shockers run plays in the half court. On the break, Frankamp is just as likely to move the ball up court.
“Landry Shamet getting the majority of minutes (at point guard) gives us the best chance to be good right now and, possibly, be at our best long-term,” Marshall said.
WSU (21-4, 11-1 Missouri Valley Conference) plays Missouri State (15-10, 6-6) at Koch Arena on Thursday to start a closing stretch that will determine the MVC title and NCAA Tournament worthiness. For the Shockers, who trail Illinois State by a half-game atop the MVC, a loss damages both categories.
The success of the backcourt starts with careful ball-handling in a program where turnovers are not tolerated. Times when Shamet and Frankamp appear rattled or out of control are rare. The rest of the team can draw confidence and a sense of reliability from the guards and their demeanor.
While the Shockers don’t run plays late in the shot clock, as they did in recent seasons for VanVleet and Baker, Marshall said the offense hasn’t been simplified much beyond that for his new point guards. The summer practices and exhibition trip to Canada helped the learning process.
“Cool, calm collected,” center Shaq Morris said. “(Shamet’s) not sped up at all. We believe we’ve got a strong set and something we can always lean on every night.”
Frankamp and Shamet started the past six games together. Marshall wanted to change his lineup after a Jan. 14 loss at Illinois State and inserted Frankamp in place of junior Daishon Smith, whose production and minutes dipped as MVC play progressed. The division of labor — Shamet at point, Frankamp at shooting guard — soon clicked. During the summer and early fall, Shamet wasn’t quite careful enough with the ball for Marshall to trust him at point. That gradually changed and he leads the MVC in assist-to-turnover ratio, 2.9 in all games and 3.1 in MVC play.
Shamet’s time at point guard takes advantage of his driving ability and size. Moving Frankamp off the ball for most of his minutes highlights his shooting. Their shooting skills stretch defenses — two key plays against Drake used Shamet and Frankamp as decoys and produced a layup for Rauno Nurger and a dunk for Rashard Kelly.
“Almost 10 times out of 10, when you throw it to (Frankamp), it’s going to be a wide-open three, knocked down,” Shamet said. “We’re starting to gell pretty well.”
In MVC games, Shamet averages 12.3 points and 3.7 assists. He is shooting 53.8 percent from the field and 46.3 percent from three-point range.
“We both take care of the ball pretty well and we have good chemistry,” Frankamp said. “Landry’s done a great job getting everybody involved He’s able to find the open man, and I can do the same thing.”
Frankamp, over the past 12 conference games, averages 9.3 points and is shooting 50.6 percent from the field, 49.1 percent behind the arc. In his past three games, he averages 16.3 points on 11-of-20 shooting from three-point range.
“Conner, with how aggressive he’s being, is perfect at (shooting guard),” Morris said. “We get the ball out of his hands a little, let Landry make the plays, and (Frankamp) does what makes him comfortable, which is shoot the ball.”
As they gained firmer control of their roles, the minutes increased. Both played 30-plus minutes against Bradley and Drake, in part because Austin Reaves missed two games with a shoulder injury. The minutes are welcome, both said.
“Flow is big for a point guard,” Shamet said. “You get a feel for how officials are officiating, what kind of a tone Coach (Marshall) wants to set, what he’s looking for. As an individual, it’s getting to know when to take your shot, when to look for other people.”
at Wichita State
- When: 8 p.m. Thursday
- Where: Koch Arena
- Records: MSU 15-10, 6-6 MVC, WSU 21-4, 11-1
- Radio: 103.7-FM
- TV: CBS Sports Network
Missouri State at Wichita State
Missouri State (15-10, 6-6): Johnson, a junior-college transfer, leads the MVC in rebounding in all games and in conference play (12.2). He has 14 games with double figures in points and rebounds, No. 9 nationally. … MSU’s bench has outscored opponents in 22 games. Sophomore G Jarred Dixon averages 15 points over the past three games, almost twice his season average. … The Bears rank last in the MVC by forcing turnovers on 14.3 percent of possessions and last by creating steals on 6.4 percent of possessions in MVC games.
Wichita State (21-4, 11-1): McDuffie made 11 of 13 shots against the Bears last season and averaged 12 points. He made 8 of 9 shots and scored 16 points, also grabbing nine rebounds, at JQH Arena . … Morris average 12.3 points and 8.1 rebounds over his past six games. He played 20 or more minutes in four of those games, after playing 20 or more in four of his previous 17 games. … The Shockers lead the series 39-30 after winning 12 in a row. The Bears last defeated the Shockers in 2011.
RPI rank as of Wednesday: MSU 189, WSU 54.