Wichita State's next star has the most to gain by the Shockers' move up to the AAC

PHILADELPHIA -- Wichita State's upgrade from the Missouri Valley Conference to the American Athletic Conference should be one of the most intriguing college basketball storylines to track this upcoming season. The Shockers are a national brand with a consistent track level of success over the past seven years. Now Gregg Marshall will guide them into a new neighborhood and the Shockers enter a multi-bid league while boasting what could prove to be the deepest, most loaded roster in program history. 

With this in mind, you can expect the Shockers to be a lock for top-two in the preseason AAC poll, with the likelihood of being the official preseason favorite to claim the conference. 

There will be many watching to see of Wichita State will further validate its status and standing in college basketball.

"If we're going to be doubted and have super-high expectations with a super-short leash, that's nothing new at all," Wichita State sophomore guard Landry Shamet told CBS Sports at last week's Under Armour All-America camp. "Where we've been, in the Valley and you drop one game and all of a sudden, 'Oh, god, they're terrible.' It's nothing new. ... We have those high expectations, but they're a little different now because we're expected to be the top team in a conference with a little bit better teams than the conference we played in."

Here at CBS Sports, we rank Wichita State fourth in the country -- yes, fourth -- in our Top 25 (and one) heading into 2017-18. 

Leading the roster of returnees is Shamet, a breakout All-American candidate. This conference transition could be a well-timed move for Shamet, given how good many are expecting him to be in his second full season of college hoops. Not only could he be really good, he's getting the benefit of proving his worth against better game-to-game competition. 

The Shockers' rangy 6-foot-5 guard -- who is developing into an NBA prospect -- is set up for a huge 2017-18 because all of his fellow starters are back. There should no transition, only growth. The Shockers finished 2016-17 as a top-10 team in KenPom.com's rankings after going 31-5 and losing by three points to second-seeded Kentucky in one of the best games of the NCAA Tournament

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Landry Shamet has the potential not just for a huge upcoming season, but could be an early NBA Draft entrant.  USATSI

Now Shamet's sure to star as the team's leader. Plus, with Wichita State in a higher-profile league, Shamet could become the next well-known name associated with the Shockers' program, potentially thriving two years removed from the famed Fred VanVleet-Ron Baker era. He might also wind up as the first Shockers player since Cliff Levingston in 1982 to leave early for the NBA Draft. Before that can happen, there's a lot to prove. Shamet -- who is athletic, cut and a pass-first combo point guard -- has as good a chance at any other AACer to be the conference's Player of the Year.

"At the end of the year, when I had time to think about myself and my classification, I felt like it would have been premature," Shamet said. "Knowing that you can only enter twice and remove your name. If I want to do it next year, then if I come back, do it again the year after that, and be able to do it every year from here on out without being put in a box. There's more I need to work on and we've got a lot back."

Shamet joined 20 other college players at the three-day Under Armour's All-America camp at Philadelphia University, which combined prospect play from select high school stars, and separate drill and skill work (plus scrimmages) for the college guys. Other college stars in attendance included Notre Dame's Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell, Wisconsin's Ethan Happ and Texas A&M's Robert Williams. Shamet had moments where he looked as composed and capable as anyone in attendance. 

Shamet is coming off a productive season, but it's not as though he was a statistical monster. That's what makes him all the more intriguing. Talk to opposing coaches and scouts, and they'll identify Shamet as a game-changer, yet he averaged 11.4 points, 3.3 assists and 2.8 rebounds in 26.7 minutes. He was an efficient shooter, making 51.3 percent of his 2s and 43.8 percent of his 3s. It's his basketball intelligence, his headstrong composure and his propensity for making the right play that have elevated his reputation in spite of regular numbers. 

"I'm really hard on myself," Shamet said. "I've always been like that, which is kind of a good problem to have. I've never been satisfied with where I'm at."

And Shamet has only played one full season. Shamet sat as a freshman in 2015-16 after a stress fracture in the fifth metatarsal of his left foot forced him to the bench. That frustrated him, particularly because he didn't get to play with VanVleet and Baker, who were big-time factors in Shamet (a Kansas City native) choosing Wichita State. Now Shamet plays with pace, and he does not allow other people to speed him up or slow him down. He learned those tools from VanVleet, who went undrafted but nonetheless earned a roster spot with the Toronto Raptors, a playoff team. 

Shamet's bigger and longer than VanVleet: he can play small forward or shooting guard, but fits best at point guard. This wasn't the plan. Shamet has the height, and nearly the size, of an NBA shooting guard. But after the Shockers' 76-62 loss to Illinois State on Jan. 14 -- the only loss in MVC play for Wichita State -- Marshall prompted a change and put his spindly redshirt freshman in charge of the offense. 

"I think I hit a point where I took a lot more of that on my own plate, took pride in it, and wanted to take up more of a role offensively and more of a leadership role," Shamet said.

The Shockers didn't lose again until the clash with Kentucky in the Big Dance. 

If you need the refresher, here's who Shamet will be joined by again in the starting lineup:

  • Forward Zach Brown, an elite defender who can face up against everyone from 5-9 point guards to 6-10 power forwards
  • Center Shaquille Morris, a growing power player the paint
  • Guard Conner Frankamp, a great 3-point shooter
  • Forward Markis McDuffie, a hyper-freak athlete, who may well look at his NBA chances next offseason, too.

It's a starting five that has size, speed, length, shooting, toughness and a defensive bend. It's why the Shockers should be a unanimous top-10 preseason team. 

Shamet is but one piece, but will probably the most critical one for Marshall's group.

"I don't think there's going to be any night-and-day changes," Shamet said of the team's style. 

This will be about a group of five staying together and getting better. That's something we almost never see in modern college basketball from top-10 teams. Usually there's at least one change in the starting lineup, if not two or three. Duke will have four new starters next season. Kentucky will replace all five.   

Because the Shockers evolved into a dominant force in the Missouri Valley, they developed an army of doubters. This season could change that, because the American (this will be its fifth year in existence) sets up as strong as it's ever been in the top half. 

"We're consistently doubted, expected to fall off," Shamet said. 

Yet Wichita State's won at least one NCAA Tournament game the past five seasons. It would be an amazement if Wichita State wasn't really good. It's come to be expected. Now the Shockers need a national star in order to stabilize their big league leap. Shamet fits the part in body and mindset. 

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Matt Norlander is a national award-winning senior writer who has been with CBS Sports since 2010. This is his 10th season reporting on college basketball for CBS. He also covers the NBA Draft, the Olympics... Full Bio

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