Charleston Southern-Wichita St. Preview
(AP) - The players who took 10th-ranked Wichita State to the Final Four three years ago are seniors now, their youthful exuberance now bolstered by the wisdom of experience.
Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker and their buddies have won enough conference championships to fill Charles Koch Arena to the brim. They ousted Kansas from the NCAA Tournament last March. And in doing so, they succeeded in putting the Shockers back on the college basketball map.
Not that anybody has paused to reflect on all of it.
''I haven't been that sentimental about it yet,'' said coach Gregg Marshall, who turned down overtures from larger schools before signing a new seven-year contract worth $3.3 million annually. ''I'm just ready to get this team ready for its own season of success."
That season begins Friday night when Wichita State hosts Charleston Southern.
Since 2010, the Shockers have won 151 games. They've won three regular-season Valley titles and the conference tournament. They went 5-0 in the postseason NIT, and have won seven games in the NCAA Tournament. They've won at least 30 games each of the past three seasons, going 35-1 two years ago.
In other words, good luck trying to sneak up on anybody.
''We try to cement each team's year as its own legacy,'' Marshall explained. ''These seniors have certainly had a lot of success. They've seen a lot of winning and banners hung, so they're probably more cognizant of it than I am. I hope we have a great season, and the goal is that we'll continue (our success) into the future.''
There are plenty of reasons to believe it will continue at least one more season.
VanVleet and Baker, who both considered entering the NBA draft, are potential All-Americans, a duo that forms arguably the best backcourt in the nation. Throw in fellow senior Evan Wessel, you have three players who have been through some of the most pressure-packed games that Wichita State has ever played.
''Expectations are high, we don't plan on losing a game all year,'' VanVleet said. ''We feel like we have a chance to win every game on our schedule, and that's what we're going to try to do.''
They'll have some talented newcomers to help try and offset the loss of guard Tekele Cotton, one of the nation's best defenders, and forward Darius Carter: Cleveland State transfer Anton Grady, former Kansas sharpshooter Conner Frankamp and one of the most talented recruiting classes Marshall has assembled, highlighted by 6-foot-4 guard Landry Shamet and 6-8 forward Markis McDuffie.
''There's been a great history of winning lately (at Wichita State),'' Grady said. ''When I talked to Coach Marshall, I had a good feeling. I felt like I could come in and fill what he said the team needed. I felt like it was a really good fit for me.''
Charleston Southern (19-12) shared the Big South regular-season title with High Point last season and was the top seed entering the conference tournament, but was upset in the quarterfinals by Longwood and finished its season with a first-round NIT loss at Old Dominion.
The Buccaneers were picked to finish eighth this season in the conference preseason poll, largely because they're trying to replace their top three scorers from last season - Saah Nimley, Arlon Harper and Will Saunders. The trio combined to average 47.4 points and accounted for 255 of Charleston Southern's 288 3-pointers.
Demetrius Pollard will be counted on to provide scoring from the perimeter after transferring from Northeastern. He averaged 8.9 points and shot 32.9 percent from beyond the arc in 2013-14, and senior Aaron Wheeler, who contributed 7.9 points and 5.2 rebounds per game, is the Buccaneers' top returning player.
"We've talked openly with our team about the difficulty of our schedule," coach Barclay Radebaugh said. "We can look at it as a negative or turn it into a positive, and obviously we're going to attempt to turn it into a positive like in everything we do. I can't imagine how it won't help us get better, and that's our goal."