Fred VanVleet, the main catalyst behind Wichita State’s undefeated 2013-14 campaign, is gearing up for his team’s matchup with Kentucky in the third round of the 2014 NCAA tournament Sunday.
The top-seeded Shockers are coming off a convincing 64-37 win over the Cal Poly Mustangs and now must prepare to face a much tougher opponent in head coach John Calipari’s No. 8-seeded Wildcats (25-10).
VanVleet is going to be essential for Wichita State to remain unbeaten, advance to the Sweet 16 and move to 36-0 against a team that was ranked No. 1 overall at the start of the season.
While the superstar sophomore only scored four points against Cal Poly, he still managed to make a major impact in the round of 64. VanVleet chipped in three rebounds and a steal, but most importantly he paced the offense with eight assists during his 28 minutes of play.
Joanna Chadwick of The Wichita Eagle pointed out a rather humorous stat about VanVleet’s facilitating:
Love CBS' stat on Fred VanVleet: WSU is 27-0 when he has 5 or more assists. But, but, but... WSU is 7-0 when he doesn't.— Joanna Chadwick (@joannachadwick) March 21, 2014
The defense made the biggest difference in that contest, however, as the Mustangs shot a meager 20.7 percent from the field and 17.9 percent from beyond the arc.
VanVleet was essential in limiting opposing guards Kyle Odister and Jamal Johnson to a combined nine points in the matchup, but he will have to play a much better all-around game against UK.
As arguably the best athlete on the Wichita State roster, it will fall on the 5’11”, 194-pound guard to defend on the perimeter and navigate through the extremely capable but often raw and inexperienced Kentucky defense.
Despite not getting much respect from the oddsmakers (Wichita has been installed as a narrow three-point favorite, according to ScoresandOdds.com), KenPom’s efficiency ratings show that the Shockers are a better overall team.
The Kansas-based program is No. 11 in the country in adjusted offense and No. 10 in adjusted defense. Compare that to the Wildcats, who rank No. 20 in offense and No. 22 in defense, and it appears this one should go in favor of Wichita State.
However, the Shockers are likely to sink or swim based on the performance of their best player, VanVleet. He has to be more dialed in against Kentucky, as a 20 percent shooting outing will not cut it against an elite program thought to be stacked with future NBA stars.
VanVleet assured the world that his team, which hadn’t played since March 9 ahead of Friday’s matchup, would not be rusty or scared against a foe that many feel will send the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region packing, as per GoShockers.com:
It was just good to get back out there playing a game. You know, it's been awhile, so I think guys got the jitters out and we'll be ready for Sunday.
Which team will win this matchup?
Wichita State has made a name off slaying giants and bluebloods, but its run will come to an end if the Rockford, Ill., native isn’t nailing shots and running the offense at a high level.
It’ll be interesting to see if he can still shine against Kentucky’s length and athleticism, but there are 35 reasons not to doubt the star point guard in Wichita State’s win column.
Predicted Final Stat Line: 15 points (5-9 FG, 2-4 3PT, 3-4 FT), nine assists, four rebounds, two steals.
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