Kansas is currently preparing to take on Wichita State in the third round of the NCAA Tournament. The Shockers, regular season champions of the Missouri Valley Conference, advanced with an exciting 81-76 win over Indiana in the opening round. Wichita State was led by junior point guard Fred VanVleet who scored 27 points on 9-for-18 shooting from the field.
VanVleet's ability to be a scoring threat combined with an effective distributor makes him one of the best point guards in the country. As a junior, he is the Shockers' second leading scorer at 13.1 points per game while also dishing out 5.3 assists per contest. Even the advanced metrics like VanVleet. For example, he clocks in with an impressive 11.3 box plus/minus.
Head coach Gregg Marshall utilizes VanVleet's versatility by putting the point guard into a number of pick-and-roll situations. Wichita State used the strategy frequently throughout their win over Indiana, allowing VanVleet to score from the midrange, take the ball to the basket, and find his open teammates. For Kansas, defending VanVleet's pick-and-roll actions will be key to shutting down a potentially potent Wichita State offense.
VanVleet's game is polished and efficient. He only takes 29.4 percent of his shots from the midrange, but he knocks them down at a 36.8 percent clip according to hoop-math.com data. The point guard finds space in the midrange by using his teammates' screens to shed defenders. The style of defense also doesn't matter. Here, VanVleet uses a screen on the top of the zone to help create space and create an open midrange jumper that he knocks down [hover mouse to play]:
VanVleet, though, can also take the ball to the basket and finish with creativity. He attempts 36.5 percent of his shots at the rim--in the form of a layup or dunk (it's unclear if VanVleet can actually dunk)--according to hoop-math. Despite being just six-foot tall, the point guard does things like use the rim to create space away from potential shot blockers. He showcased both his penetration ability and creativity at the rim during the following sequence against the Hoosiers:
The Rockford, Illinois native is also dangerous when he turns down the screens, using them as a distraction to allow him space to drive to the basket. Here's an example of that against Indiana where VanVleet turns down Ron Baker's screen in order to get to the bucket:
VanVleet is also able to distribute from the pick-and-roll, although he doesn't often hit the roll man. Wichita State lacks the kind of skilled offensive big men that would make VanVleet even more dangerous, but he can hit teammates for open looks from behind the 3-point line or dump it off to a big in the lane. Here, VanVleet is able to get into the line, forcing over help defense. The point guard then hits his defender with a nice Euro step before dropping off the pass to Shaq Morris for the slam:
VanVleet's pick-and-roll game is not uncommon. Wichita State often eschews more complicated offensive sets in order to allow their point guard the ability to put his creativity to work. Kansas will have to defend the action on multiple possessions on Sunday, so what are some of the Jayhawks' potential options?
The first question is who will guard VanVleet? The obvious answer if Kansas point guard Frank Mason III. Mason is a solid defender who has shown the ability to stay in front of reasonably quick opposition this season. At times, Mason has struggled against much quicker players like Texas's Isaiah Taylor. The Kansas guard is a smart defender who would likely to do a sufficient job on VanVleet.
Another option is Wayne Selden Jr. Selden is perhaps the Jayhawks' best on-ball defender and his length would likely bother VanVleet. For all of VanVleet's impressive skills, he's has trouble against larger defenders. For example, he scored just four points on 1-for-6 shooting against Kentucky's Harrison twins in last year's NCAAs. He also managed 13 points against Utah's big backcourt earlier this season, but it took him 19 shots to get there. Selden could likely provide Kansas with similar benefits while shifting Mason onto a lesser offensive threat like Tekele Cotton.
Given the plethora of perimeter defenders the Jayhawks have, they will likely switch pick-and-rolls between perimeter players against Wichita State. When the Shockers screen with a big man, I expect Kansas to continue to blitz the ballhandler as they've done most of the season. As I noted above, Wichita State is unlikely to get a ton of scoring production out of their bigs, so guarding the roll man is a bit less of a concern. If the Jayhawks' bigs can stay out of foul trouble this will likely be the best strategy, but it creates pressure on other Kansas players to rotate well to open Shockers.
Whatever Bill Self decides, defending Fred VanVleet's pick-and-roll action will be important in the third round game against Wichita State. VanVleet's versatility and creativity make him one of the most dangerous guards in college basketball and he'll need to be accounted for come Sunday.