When the lights are the brightest and the games are tightest, there is no player more valuable than a team’s best player. As the NCAA tournament heats up, Wichita State will need its most talented player to rise to occasion if the Shockers are to survive an extremely difficult Midwest Region.
The question needs to be asked: who is the Shockers’ best player? Fred Van Vleet is the team’s field general and playmaker. Ron Baker is the team’s sharpshooter and is a great utility guy. Tekele Cotton is the team’s most dominant defender. That said, senior Cleanthony Early is Wichita State’s best and most talented player.
The 6-foot-8 New York native has great size for a small forward and also possesses guard skills. He has made almost 60 3-pointers on the year and averages 36 percent from the arc. Astonishingly, Early has an incredible handle for a man his size and is able to use his length to get around defenders. He is truly a special college player, which is why he’ll be an NBA draft pick in a few months.
Early’s teammates make WSU a tough and competitive team, but he is why they can win the entire tourney. The senior averages less than 16 points per contest, but he can explode into a scoring frenzy at any time. He has a knack for getting to the line, and he is money from the charity stripe where he shoots 84 percent.
This is Early’s opportunity to will his team to victory like Carmelo Anthony did with Syracuse and as Kemba Walker did with Connecticut in 2011. Although this year’s draft is loaded with top-heavy talent, the middle-to-lower half of the first round will be his for the taking with a strong showing in the national tournament.