The final tour of the Missouri Valley Conference starts on Thursday for Wichita State senior guards Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet. Their final 18 regular-season MVC games provide one last chance for them to add to their status as one of the conference’s great backcourts.
Bradley’s Jim Les and Hersey Hawkins. Drake’s Willie McCarter and Don Draper. Larry Finch and Bill Laurie at Memphis State. Junior Bridgemen and Phillip Bond at Louisville.
Cincinnati’s Oscar Robertson and anybody.
Baker, once a walk-on from Scott City, and VanVleet, snapped up by the Shockers before higher-profile programs discovered him, own accomplishments that rank with any guard in Valley history.
One last time. Nine cities, 18 games before they move into the MVC history book.
Two quotes that sum up their careers
“The guy is Rambo,” ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla said after the Pan Am Games in July. “He plays fearlessly. He went toe-to-toe with some physical, grown men who know how to play the game and he really helped Team USA. He, arguably, was the best collegian. Most of them got better as the week went on, but he showed the most growth.”
“Let me tell you why I love this kid,” Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson said in 2015. “I shake Fred’s hand tonight. He’s smiling and he’s happy. There are other teams in this conference, including mine, that you’ve got players that are used to being the leading scorer, the best player … they get two points after a win and they’re going through the line with their head down and they’re upset. That’s the difference between that kid and most every other kid in the country.”
Their record against the MVC
WSU is 47-7 in the regular season against MVC schools the past three seasons.
Baker didn’t play in a regular-season game in 2013 because of injury and VanVleet didn’t start that season. As starters in 2013-14 and 2014-15, they are 35-1 in the regular season and 4-1 in the MVC Tournament for a 39-2 record.
With that success comes plenty of individual honors.
Both are two-time All-MVC selections and have a chance to join the list of Shockers (Xavier McDaniel, Robert Elmore, Warren Jabali, Dave Stallworth, Cleo Littleton) with three (Littleton owns four) first-team honors. VanVleet was the 2014 MVC Player of the Year.
On the road in the Valley
Loyola’s Gentile Arena is 85 miles from Rockford, Ill., VanVleet’s hometown. When the Shockers play there, it’s a homecoming party with 50 or more friends and family making the trip. Rockford TV stations usually show up to document the hometown kid’s success.
He always gives them something to cheer about. WSU has won both its games at Loyola and VanVleet is averaging 18 points after making all 11 of his shots and 13 of 14 free throws. He has 16 assists and three turnovers in the two games at Gentile Arena.
“Close to home,” he said. “We’re able to get some wins and I can see some people.”
Missouri State’s JQH Arena will always own a special place in the memories of Baker and VanVleet. In 2014, the unbeaten Shockers trailed Missouri State 54-35 with 11:48 remaining. They rallied to win 72-69 in overtime, the closest shave on their way to a 35-game win streak.
“I remember playing terrible for 60 percent, 75 percent of that game,” VanVleet said. “Then we made a bunch of big-time plays.”
The Shockers entered that game 16-0 and ranked No. 6 nationally. Baker made two three-pointers to help cut the margin to 10 points and WSU’s press began to frazzle the Bears. VanVleet scored seven of WSU’s eight points in overtime.
“Winning that game like we did was a fun experience,” Baker said.
Baker enjoys playing at Valley stops with good fan support, even though he is often a target of their teasing.
“Missouri State, always got a decent student section, and UNI,” Baker said. “I always seem to shoot it pretty well at Missouri State, and it’s fun place to play at — really nice atmosphere and arena. UNI, that place is a cracker-jack box and you’ve got 6,500 people on top of you. Loyola is tough to play at, small gym. Usually it’s cold up there.”
Hot and cold vs. the MVC
In six games against the Bears, Baker averages 14 points on 58.7-percent shooting. He is 18 of 30 from the three-point line. Indiana State holds him to 9.2 points in five meetings, the only MVC school that he doesn’t average 10 or more against.
VanVleet, on the other hand, is often at his best against Indiana State. He averages 12.6 points in seven meetings, making 12 of 23 threes. He also has 25 assists, 15 steals and nine turnovers in his career against the Sycamores.
Illinois State is the team that frustrates him. In eight games, he averages 8.9 points and is 24 of 61 from the floor.
One game to remember
Baker scored a career-high 26 points in a 2014 game at Evansville. He put the game away with a 7-0 run in the final 2:54, handing the fourth-ranked Shockers an 84-68 win and a 27-0 record.
He made 10 of 17 shots, adding five steals, four rebounds and two assists.
VanVleet recorded a triple-double (10 points, 11 assists, 10 rebounds) last season against Missouri State. But it’s hard to overlook his peformance against Indiana State in the 2014 MVC Tournament title game. He scored 22 points, making 9 of 14 shots and 4 of 6 threes. He also recorded five assists, five rebounds and two steals to wrap up a spot on the all-tournament team.
2006 Shockers return to Koch Arena — Most of the players from the 2005-06 Shockers are scheduled to attend Thursday’s game and will be introduced at halftime of WSU’s 1 p.m. game against Drake.
That team won the Missouri Valley Conference title — WSU’s first since 1983 — and played in the NCAA Tournament — WSU’s first since 1988. The Shockers defeated Seton Hall and second-seeded Tennessee before losing to George Mason.
They finished 26-9 with center Paul Miller earning MVC Player of the Year honors and forwards P.J. Couisnard and Kyle Wilson named honorable mention All-MVC. Coach Mark Turgeon was named MVC Coach of the Year.
Manager Joe Crowley, who organized the event, said he expects guard Sean Ogirri to be among those who return. Ogirri played three seasons at WSU before transferring to Wyoming. He’s been hard to track down in recent years, but Crowley said he received word through Couisnard that Ogirri will attend.
Couisnard, Miller, Wilson, Karon Bradley, Ryan Martin, Wendell Preadom, Phil Thomasson and Cameron Ledford are also expected to attend.
Turgeon, who now coaches at Maryland, will not attend. His team opens Big Ten play on Wednesday afternoon. Assistant coaches Tad Boyle and Mike Rohn, both now at Colorado, and Pooh Williamson (Texas Tech) are similarly in the midst of their seasons.
Drake at Wichita State
- When: 1 p.m. Thursday
- Where: Koch Arena
- Records: DU 5-7, 0-0 MVC; WSU 6-5, 0-0
- Radio: KEYN, 103.7-FM
- TV: ESPNU
Drake at Wichita State
Drake (5-7): The Bulldogs are shooting 42.3 percent from three-point range, No. 7 nationally. Timmer (51.2 percent), Abrahamson (39.5 percent) and Woodard (44.1 percent) account for 190 of their 234 three-point attempts.… Abrahamson is a transfer from Northwestern; Woodard is a transfer from Penn State. In his past three games, Abrahamson is averaging 20 points and is 12 of 21 from three-point range.… Arogundade moved into the starting lineup for a 70-64 loss to Iowa and scored a season-high nine points.… The Bulldogs rarely block shots and defense is an issue for a team that gives up 70.5 points a game. Opponents are making 44.5 percent of their shots and 36.8 percent of their three-pointers against Drake. Nine of Drake’s 11 NCAA Division I opponents shot better than their season average.
Wichita State (6-5): C Bush Wamukota can play after serving a one-game academic suspension, coach Gregg Marshall said.… The Shockers are protecting a 37-game home win streak (three at Intrust Bank Arena). A win against Drake ties WSU with Tulsa (1980-82) four the fourth-longest home streak in MVC history.… WSU has won seven in a row over Drake and leads the series 100-47. The Shockers won 66-58 at Drake, with Baker scoring 23 points, and 74-40 at Koch Arena. WSU forced 17 turnovers and held Drake to 15 baskets in the home victory.… WSU has not played since beating Nevada 98-69 on Dec. 22. Monday’s game against New Mexico State was postponed when snow kept the Aggies from flying to Wichita.… Freshman G Ty Taylor, who did not play against Nevada, is back at practice after suffering a minor shoulder injury in practice.… VanVleet has 495 career assists. With one more, he ties Indiana State’s Nate Green for 14th in MVC history.… WSU ranks No. 8 nationally with a plus-5.5 turnover margin.
RPIs as of Wednesday: DU 286, WSU 50