Bob Lutz

Baker and VanVleet haven’t been replaced, but new WSU backcourt duo isn’t bad

Wichita State guard Conner Frankamp is shooting 57.2 percent from three-point range in his last eight games.
Wichita State guard Conner Frankamp is shooting 57.2 percent from three-point range in his last eight games. The Wichita Eagle

There was a sense of uneasiness, at least, when Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet departed as Wichita State basketball players.

Shocker fans will forever love those guys because of their personalities, flair and ability. They defined WSU basketball for several seasons, a run of seasons like no other in the program’s history, and there was tangible concern when they left in pursuit of NBA careers.

But there’s not a coach in college basketball more adept at developing a backcourt than the Shockers’ Gregg Marshall.

He’s taken a redshirt freshman (Landry Shamet) and a local guard struggling to find his high school swagger (Conner Frankamp) and helped make them into suitable replacements for Baker and VanVleet.

Shamet and Frankamp made 7 of 8 three-point attempts Tuesday night in a win over Evansville at Koch Arena. They’re shooting better than Baker or VanVleet ever did.

Over his past eight games, Frankamp has averaged 13.4 points while shooting 52.9 percent overall and 57.5 percent from the three-point line. Those confidence issues that strangely lingered during his first couple of semesters in a Shocker uniform have gone away.

Plus, Frankamp has become more than just a shooter. He’s being praised by Marshall and teammates for his defense and in those same eight games in which he’s scoring more, he’s also had 18 rebounds, 26 assists and 14 steals.

“I think Landry and I feed off each other pretty well,” Frankamp said. “He’s really done well playing the point guard and he finds me when I’m open. And I try to find him when he’s open, as well.”

Shamet’s stretch of big games goes back 18 games, during which he has averaged 12.8 points while shooting 53.5 percent from the floor and 51.8 percent from the three-point line.

These kind of shooters make Wichita State’s inside game that much more dangerous because Frankamp and Shamet stretch the defense. It’s surprising now when one of their shots doesn’t go in.

“They really are playing well,” said senior guard J.R. Simon, who made three three-pointers against Evansville in his final home game. “It’s hard coming in here and trying to replace Ron and Fred with everything they’ve done and the legacy they’ve left. But Conner and Landry are growing each day, getting better at handling the ball and knocking down their shots.”

You don’t replace everything Baker and VanVleet offered. They were lock-down defenders, tough rebounders and two of the smartest players in college basketball.

But Shamet and Frankamp are filling a lot of the void, especially lately.

Last season, Baker and VanVleet combined to make 40.9 percent of their shots and 36.1 percent of their three-pointers. In 18 Missouri Valley Conference games, those numbers were 42.6 and 36.9. They combined to average 26.2 points overall and 25.3 points in Valley games.

Shamet and Frankamp are shooting 46.6 percent overall and 44.4 percent from the three-point line in 30 games so far. In 17 Valley games, they’re shooting 52.2 percent overall and 51.3 percent from the three-point line. And that’s while taking significantly fewer shots than Baker and VanVleet.

Shamet and Frankamp don’t approach the overall value of Baker and VanVleet, though. The former Shocker standouts averaged 8.7 assists and eight rebounds last season. Shamet and Frankamp are averaging 6.1 assists and 4.2 rebounds.

But Shamet and Frankamp take care of the ball better than their predecessors with a 3.57 assist-to-turnover ratio; Baker and VanVleet had a 2.64 mark.

“Conner is really easy to play with,” Shamet said. “I think we’re really pretty interchangeable as guards, we can do almost all of the same things offensively. We just gel well and know how to play with one another.”

These outstanding Shocker backcourts didn’t start with Baker and VanVleet. Malcolm Armstead, Demetric Williams, Joe Ragland, Toure Murray, David Kyles and Clevin Hannah have all contributed to some really good Wichita State guard tandems during Marshall’s 10 years.

This particular duo, though, really took off when Marshall moved Shamet to the point and Frankamp to shooting guard. He doesn’t take credit, though.

“I think it’s worked better,” Marshall said, “but they’re both good players. The move was probably helpful but if Conner was still at the point and Landry was at the 2, they might be equally as good. I don’t know. I do like the way they’re sharing the basketball.”

After sharing minutes pretty equally with Daishon Smith and Austin Reaves earlier, Shamet and Frankamp have clearly become the Shockers’ go-to guards. And they’re not disappointing.

“You obviously can’t replace players like Ron and Fred,” Shamet said. “I’m still a freshman and they do things that I can’t do as well. But just having that confidence and not being afraid of that void has been one of my goals this entire season.”

Frankamp, too, has stepped into his comfort zone. It appeared he was reluctant to do anything to take away from the Ron and Fred experience, so he did his best to become a facilitator.

“I’m being more aggressive now,” Frankamp said. “I’ve gotten my confidence back and hopefully it’s something I can continue to build.”

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