Lutz Blog

WSU’s Ron Baker, Fred VanVleet will be among nation’s elite this season

The Wichita Eagle

College football hasn’t even started yet, but can anyone around these parts not anticipate the 2014-15 college basketball season? I know I’m ready to see what Wichita State and Gregg Marshall have in store; how Kansas deals with another outstanding group of freshmen; and what Kansas State guard Marcus Foster does for an encore to a superb freshman season.

Yep, we’re gonzo for basketball around here. Not so much that we want to skip football altogether. but November can’t arrive soon enough.

Here’s a notion for you. What if one of Wichita State’s two standout juniors, Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet, is the best player in the country this season?

Far-fetched? Not really.

I’ve been looking at a bunch of lists of expected best players for the upcoming season. Baker and VanVleet are on all of them, including Jason McIntyre’s list.

Both players will undoubtedly be named to the Wooden Award watch list. The Shockers should be ranked inside the Top 10 when the preseason polls are released and look to have a great shot at repeating as Missouri Valley Conference champions. Right now, it’s not logical to think that there’s another team in the Valley that can challenge Wichita State.

McIntyre’s list has freshmen in the top four spots: Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, Kansas forward Cliff Alexander, Stanley Johnson of Arizona and Kentucky’s Karl Towns. Two other freshmen — Duke’s Tyus Jones and Texas’ Myles Thompson — are seventh and eighth. Baker and VanVleet are 14th and 15th, respectively, and I think that’s too low.

No doubt, the Shockers are going to miss Cleanthony Early, now with the New York Knicks. Baker and VanVleet, though, were the heart and soul of the Shockers, along with Tekele Cotton, a senior. I expect Baker and VanVleet to pick up a lot of the scoring slack left by the depature of Early. Senior forward Darius Carter will help with that, too.

I know there’s a lot of sizzle with some of the one-and-done freshmen. But give me a pair of juniors who have been to a Final Four and been integral to a team that was 35-0 before losing in the NCAA Tournament’s third round to eventual national runner-up Kentucky last season any time.

To some degree, Baker and VanVleet will cancel one another out when it comes to national recognition. They’re so good — and so good together — that it’s almost impossible to say one is more valuable than the other. That might not help either when it comes to individual awards.

And if there’s one thing we’ve learned about Marshall-coached teams, it’s that individual accomplishments take a back seat — a way, way back seat — to what the team does. Marshall’s system doesn’t create stars, it creates a team full of players pushing in the same direction.

Still, I expect Baker and VanVleet to be in the national spotlight this season, which should be another great one for the Shockers.