There’s an unknown commodity in Wichita, KS, and his is name is Cleanthony Early. The 6-foot-8 power forward has a do-it-all game. In the past couple of seasons, he’s been overshadowed by Creighton’s Doug McDermott; Creighton is now in the Big East, however, so can Early finally get over the hump and win Missouri Valley Conference player of the year?
Early’s season thus far has been anything but a disappointing one. Including the game against William & Mary, in which they won 79-62, Early has averaged 16 points and six rebounds on the season. Early had 14 points and nine rebounds in an impressive win over the Tribe. The senior forward can take over a game in the block, on the pick and roll, and from outside the arc; he’s a dangerous weapon in the hands of coach Gregg Marshall’s arsenal.
William & Mary was the first test for the Shockers this season, as the Tribe look to be near the top in the Colonial Athletic Conference.
The 16th ranked Shockers have a chance to repeat their successful Final Four run from last year. Not only do the Shockers have Early at their disposal, but they have returning guard Fred VanVleet running the point, his more natural position. VanVleet is a dangerous ball handler and shooter, and pairing that with Early’s inside game, it’s going to be tough to stop in the MVC. Can the Shockers make it back to the Final Four? Perhaps, but it’s all resting on Early’s shoulders.
Imagine if Wichita State got Andrew Wiggins to commit; the Shockers have his older brother and senior reserve guard, Nick Wiggins, on their roster. Marshall now has the pedigree and tenacity to coach deep in the tournament, but he needs to rely on his senior, Early, to win the key games down the stretch.
VanVleet’s 18 points (9-12 from the line) was a bright point in the Shockers’ win tonight over the Tribe, but Early is the clear star on a talented roster that can make another shocking run in the tournament.