Fred VanVleet has been the beat of his team's heart all season.
Playing for top-seeded Wichita State, the sophomore point guard has helped lead the Shockers to an undefeated record of 34-0.
Setting the table for the likes of Cleanthony Early and Rob Baker, VanVleet — who is 5-foot-11 — is averaging 12.1 points and 5.3 assists. Playing a team-leading 31.7 minutes per game, he is shooting 49.6 percent from the field, including 44.7 percent from 3-point range, and 82.4 percent from the free-throw line.
Impressive, indeed. He has the attention of the nation, as well as that of Ernie Moore, a terrific point guard in his own right at Wichita State in the early 1960s.
“He's very, very good,” Moore told Wichita Eagle columnist Bob Lutz. “He controls the game like he's supposed to. He takes that big shot when he's supposed to when they bog down a little bit on offense. He takes care of the basketball. He really takes care of the basketball and that's what I judge him on the most.”
A point guard often leads his team in turnovers because he handles the ball the most. Not VanVleet, who has only 46 turnovers this season, compared to 58 for Baker and 69 for Early.
VanVleet has an outstanding assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.9-to-1.
Wichita State will open by playing either Cal Poly (13-19) or Texas Southern (19-14) on Friday in the second round.
The Shockers are 34-0. When they defeated Bradley on Feb. 25, they became the first team in Division I history to reach 30-0 during the regular season.
Beyond that lofty accomplishment, this is a team that has everything it needs for a long and impressive run. Wichita State has an outstanding point guard in Fred VanVleet and a balanced scoring attack led by Cleanthony Early (15.8 ppg). Wichita State is solid defensively, too. It has allowed opponents only a 39.2 shooting percentage and an average of 59.6 points per game.
The No. 1 seed earned by the Shockers is the first in program history.Sleeper: Duke
There were thoughts about making fourth-seeded Louisville the sleeper, but no one will be sleeping on the defending champion Cardinals.
Instead, it will be the Blue Devils (26-8), even if that seems weird. With their eight losses — including one by nine points to Virginia in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championship game Sunday — it could be that not many are expecting this to be one of those great Duke years.
The Blue Devils have won four national titles, have been runners-up six times and have 15 Final Four appearances. And, they are coached by Mike Krzyzewski, who has coached them to all four of their titles and 11 Final Fours.Upset Alert: Kansas State over Kentucky
Although a No. 9-over-No. 8 victory might not seem like much of an upset, keep in mind that Kentucky not only has history behind it — the Wildcats have eight titles — but they were ranked No. 1 by the Associated Press to begin the season.
A victory by No. 9 Kansas State over No. 8 Kentucky therefore would qualify. And it can be done. Kansas State has lost its past three games and it's unlikely few are expecting it to win Friday when the teams square off in St. Louis. Kansas State and leading scorer Marcus Foster (15.6 average) have nothing to lose.Bracket Breakdown
There will be a lot of pressure on Wichita State to live up to its 34-0 record. That's not to mention the Shockers are in a bracket with three of the biggest names in college basketball — Duke, Louisville and Kentucky.
And don't forget No. 2 seed Michigan. The only problem with thinking the Wolverines could advance out of this region is they are coming off a 14-point loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament title game, which could have damaged their psyche a bit.
A terrific third-round game to look forward to is Wichita State-Kentucky, should both win their second-round games.