Down two with three seconds to go is every college basketball team’s nightmare, but a dream come true for all the fans of the NCAA Tournament. That’s the exact situation the Wichita State basketball team faced in its Round of 32 game against Kentucky on Sunday night, a game that’s already being called an instant classic. The Shockers missed a three-pointer at the buzzer to win it, but the play call for that shot definitely wasn’t the smartest of the season by Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall.
For starters, why in the world did Fred VanVleet take the final shot for the Shockers? The kid had a great season and sure, the Wildcats probably weren’t expecting him to take it, but he had four points of 1-of-5 shooting before the final play. Meanwhile, Ron Baker and Cleanthony Early were on fire as both had already hit big shot after big shot while well-contested by Kentucky’s defense.
Still, Marshall picked VanVleet to take a three from the top of the key —typically a good look — off a screen directly following the inbounds pass. Now, the Shockers’ undefeated season is over.
First of all, taking a three in that situation was gutsy to begin with and there’s an endless debate of whether or not that’s the right call when down by two, deepening on your point of view. Regardless, VanVleet isn’t the one who should have taken the last shot in that situation.
A pick to free up a corner jumper for Early would have been the ideal call for Wichita State. He was hitting everything he put up, especially from that corner spot, and would have given the Shockers a much better chance of sending the game to overtime, or possibly winning it if fouled on the final shot.
Going with that scenario, Baker was drawing close contention from the Wildcats’ defense and likely would have been fouled coming off a double pick drive to the hoop. Two free throws ties it, and a potential three-point play wins it.
Any of those scenarios would have given Wichita State a better chance to win than VanVleet taking an off-balance three from the top of the key when he had been ice cold the whole game. But alas, Kentucky moves and Marshall’s squad wonders what might have been.