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Wichita State Shockers Hope to continue success after historic run

Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker are gone. What's next in Wichita?

Fred Van Vleet and Ron Baker
Fred Van Vleet and Ron Baker
Icon Sportswire via AP

At the start of last year, it seemed like it was all falling apart.

Wichita State struggled out of the gate, losing four of its first six -- three of those losses without star Fred VanVleet in the lineup. Ultimately, the team found its way into the NCAA Tournament, where it defeated Vanderbilt and Arizona before falling to Miami, but the question remained: just how good would this team be next year without VanVleet and his classmate Ron Baker?

Those two composed one of the most decorated back courts in recent college basketball history. They joined guard Evan Wessel and forward Anton Grady as a class that experienced a Cinderella Final Four run, an undefeated regular season and another Sweet 16 finish.

So with all of these losses, what's next for Wichita? Well, it might not all be bad.

To start, Wichita is coached by Gregg Marshall, who has proved himself time and again. He brought the Shockers onto the national stage, even before that run to the Final Four. The year after that run, he brought the Shockers back to the NCAA tournament with an undefeated record. After losing Cleathony Early, Marshall still managed to lead his group to the Sweet 16, where it eventually fell to Notre Dame in 2015.

Every time he has been challenged, he has answered.

Along with that, there is hope that Kansas transfer Connor Frankamp will have a breakout year and returning contributors like freshman forward Markis McDuffie (7.4 points per game) and sophomores Shaquille Morris and Zach Brown, who both averaged just under seven points a game last year, can take steps forward.

That's not to mention a trio three-star recruits to headline his 2016 recruiting class: forward Darral Willis, guard C.J. Keyser and guard Daishon Smith. Willis averaged a double-double last season (18.4 ppg and 10.4 rebounds per game) at Pearl River Community College, while Smith averaged 16.2 points a game and achieved all conference honors at Tallahassee Community College.

Wichita State will also welcome guard Austin Reaves, who led his team to a state title his senior year and is rated as a three-star prospect. That might not make for the nation's best recruiting class, but Marshall has done a terrific job in finding hidden gems over the last few years, highlighted by Early, a three-star recruit turned first-round draft pick and the Baker/VanVleet duo.

The ultimate reality of the situation is that Marshall's team will be young and inexperienced, but as the season progresses, look for the three-time Missouri Valley Conference coach of the year to have a dangerous squad come postseason play. With Northern Iowa also losing key pieces, the MVC is up for grabs.

The first look at the new squad for the Shockers will come in Canada in early August. Wichita State will play four preseason games against college teams and all-star teams beginning in Montreal on Aug. 6. That might not be enough to comfort Shockers fans, but it will give the team some needed experience as it adjusts to a new era in its history.