One can imagine that by mid-January, Missouri Valley Conference coaches felt relief. Wichita State’s Conner Frankamp, it appeared, was a backup guard with a jump shot that deserved respect, not fear.
In the past month, that scouting report is no longer accurate and, in fact, seems to describe a player who no longer exists.
Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson, who worked on coach Bill Self’s staff at Kansas when Self recruited Frankamp, knew the talent lurking better than most. On Wednesday, Frankamp continued his series of outbursts with 14 points — nine in a 62-second span — in the second half of an 87-68 win at SIU Arena.
“I’m really happy for his success; I wish he wasn’t so great against us,” Hinson said. “I think he’s the hottest player on the team right now. You have to get out on him no matter where he’s at, and that enables those guys to be open on the interior.”
Frankamp’s gravitational pull on defenses wasn’t so pronounced for much of his WSU career. As of Jan. 16, he played in 47 games as a Shocker and averaged 6.3 points while shooting 34.8 percent from three-point range and 38.5 overall. In 26 games against MVC teams, he had not started and scored in double figures twice.
In the nine games since, Frankamp is a terror and his hot streak, combined with WSU’s success, is pushing him into All-MVC consideration.
The Shockers (24-4, 14-1 MVC) play Northern Iowa (14-12, 9-6) on Saturday at Koch Arena. Like Frankamp, the Panthers are a different bunch than earlier in the season. WSU defeated UNI 80-66 on Jan. 8 and since then it is 9-2 and in third place in the Valley with three games to play.
Frankamp, a junior from North, started the past nine games and averages 12.3 points in that stretch by making 25 of 40 (62.5 percent) of his three-pointers and 40 of 70 shots (57.1). In his past six games, he averages 14.8 points and is 19 of 32 (59.3 percent) from behind the arc.
“Get him the ball,” WSU center Shaq Morris said. “Whenever we see the basket get big for him, it’s a good thing.”
Frankamp’s spoken often about his growing confidence as the reason for his surge. Marshall points to a season at Kansas where Frankamp played more than 20 minutes once, followed by a transfer to WSU. Last season, he naturally deferred to Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet.
“I think it takes different players different amounts of time,” Marshall said. “You never know how long it’s going to take a guy to ‘get it’ and to finally feel comfortable and assured that we believe in him as a staff.”
Frankamp returned to starting lineup against Evansville on Jan. 17 and clicked by playing shooting guard with Landry Shamet at point guard. In the past two games, Frankamp’s watched the game develop, shook off quiet first halves and turned into a game-changer in the second half.
“The guys do a great job of finding him and they know he can really shoot it,” Marshall said. “Once he gets in that rhythm, we try to find him shots.”
At Loyola, he scored all 16 of his points in the second half, making 7 of 12 shots. At SIU, he missed both of his first-half shots before making 5 of 7, 4 of 4 from three-point range, in the second half.
“I didn’t get too many good looks in the first half,” Frankamp said after Wednesday’s win. “In the second half, I got some looks and was able to knock them down. It was pretty much in the flow of the game.”
With WSU and Illinois State far ahead of the rest, they will earn plenty of All-MVC spots. WSU grabbed three first-team spots and one on the second team in 2013-14 when it went 18-0 in the regular season. In 2014-15, WSU and UNI dominated and they combined for three first-team spots and one second team.
The Shockers, even with their balanced scoring and playing time, will present plenty of candidates. Shamet, the likely Freshman of the Year, is the lone Shocker to start every game. Sophomore Markis McDuffie leads WSU in scoring and rebounding. Morris returned to the starting lineup at the same time as Frankamp and is on a similar roll with eight double-figure scoring games and three double-doubles in the past nine.
Frankamp’s surge isn’t too late for All-MVC consideration in the mind of Mark Adams, who will broadcast Saturday’s game on ESPN2. Frankamp’s improvement on defense lifted all aspects of his game, opened the door to more minutes and showcased his offensive skills.
“We’ve always known he can shoot,” Adams said. “His defensive awareness, his defensive positioning, his defensive ability have always been a huge question mark. He’s solved that.”
at Wichita State
- When: 11 a.m. Saturday
- Where: Koch Arena
- Records: UNI 14-12, 9-6 MVC, WSU 24-4, 14-1
- Radio: 103.7-FM
- TV: ESPN2
- Online: ESPN3.com
Northern Iowa at Wichita State
Northern Iowa: (14-12, 9-6): Morgan is the only NCAA Division I player to lead his team in scoring, rebounding, assists (2.8), blocks (1.5), steals (1.9), three-pointers (53) and free throws (93). … Koch averages 15.2 points and 5.9 rebounds over the past 10 games. During UNI’s 0-5 start to MVC play, he averaged 9.2 points and 2.8 rebounds and didn’t block a shot. He played 18 minutes in the first game against WSU and scored eight points with two rebounds. … The Panthers are 6-0 in MVC rematches this season. … UNI leads the series 29-28 and defeated the Shockers 53-50 last season at Koch Arena to end a 43-game home win streak.
Wichita State (24-4, 14-1): The Shockers defeated UNI 80-66 on Jan. 8, making 11 of 20 threes. Shamet led WSU with 17 points and C Rauno Nurger came off the bench to score 13 on 6-of-7 shooting. … The Shockers bring a nine-game win streak into Saturday’s game. They can add a third double-digit win streak since 1980 after winning 12 in a row last season and 35 straight in 2013-14. The Shockers have won those nine by an average of 22.6 points while holding opponents to 35.4 percent shooting.
RPIs as of Friday: UNI 132, WSU 43.