TERRE HAUTE —
Point guards do so many things for a basketball team, but the most important thing the best of them do is embody grace under pressure.
That grace is tested when the shot clock gets below the 10-second mark. Every decision they make takes on more urgency. The good decisions have a high reward, the bad ones can carry the weight of sinking their team.
Indiana State’s Jake Odum and Wichita State’s Fred Van Vleet are two of the best in the Missouri Valley Conference at that 10-second test. Odum has proven it over his four-year career at ISU.
Van Vleet has emerged this season as one of the MVC’s best decision-makers under pressure.
Van Vleet’s successful transition into Wichita State’s starting lineup is one of the reasons the fourth-ranked Shockers are unbeaten at 23-0.
Van Vleet does nothing fancy.
His numbers are good — 12.1 points and an impressive 5.3 assists per game — but not eye-popping. What Van Vleet does possess is an uncommon ability to meld his own team’s late shot clock plan and read the opposing defense perfectly to humble them.
“He’s smart and he’s tough. He does what the game dictates. He makes momentum-changing plays at the end of the shot clock. He’s a complete basketball player,” ISU coach Greg Lansing said.
When chaos swirls around him, Van Vleet is calm. That’s a simple thing, but one that has earned him the respect of the league. Especially given the leap forward he’s made after a freshman campaign in which he sometimes struggled.
“The thing that impresses me most is that at the end of the shot clock, he just makes simple plays. He’s never rushed. He has an unbelievable quality. You have faith he’s going to make a safe, easy play. He’s not going to be rushed or panicked. Shots are on his terms. He makes that team go,” Drake coach Ray Giacoletti said.
Van Vleet’s most impressive statistic is his MVC-leading 3.9 assist-to-turnover ratio. One of the reasons WSU is unbeaten is that they don’t beat themselves and Van Vleet is the primary reason.
“In a one-on-one situation, he keeps his dribble alive, much like Jake Odum has done through the years. He’s got the ability to create for himself and others very well. He doesn’t get rattled when the clock gets low. He can usually shake someone and get a decent look,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said.
Odum has done much of what Van Vleet has done since he became a starter in 2010. His end-of-shot-clock bona fides are cemented. His smorgasbord of buzzer-beating jumpers is a testament to that.
Still, Odum has come in for some criticism from fans as some of his numbers are down. He’s averaging 12.3 points per game, down 1.3 from last season. His shooting percentage is 41.4 percent, down six points from his junior year.
While Odum’s scoring numbers are down, it hasn’t hurt the Sycamores as the percentage of offense he has to provide has decreased as new scorers have emerged.
Odum has provided 16.5 percent of ISU’s offense this season and is still ISU’s leading scorer. In 2013, Odum carried 20.7 percent of ISU’s scoring load and 16.8 percent in 2012.
One important statistic has improved drastically — Odum’s assist-to-turnover ratio is 2.5. In his first three seasons, Odum never topped the 2.0 mark in that important category.
“I wouldn’t trade Jake for anybody. We’re better around him. Khristian Smith, Dawon Cummings and Justin Gant are all scoring. He’s going to do what the game dictates him to do. He’s upped his level in every way,” Lansing said.