OMAHA, Neb. – Few perimeter trios in the NCAA tournament are more capable than Ron Baker, Tekele Cotton and Fred VanVleet.
No. 14 Wichita State uses that threesome to test even the strongest defensive teams.
"They are very good," Indiana guard Nick Zeisloft said. "We have our work cut out for us. One thing with Wichita is they’re tough."
Zeisloft transferred from Illinois State, which competes against the Shockers in the Missouri Valley Conference, so he has firsthand knowledge.
When the 10th-seeded Hoosiers take on seventh-seeded Wichita State at the CenturyLink Center on Friday, perimeter defense will be a key to pulling off the upset.
Few small forwards are better than Baker at finishing at the basket, but he plays more on the outside, hitting 39.4 percent of his 3-pointers and taking more than half his shots from beyond the arc.
Baker is the top scorer for the Shockers (28-4) with an average of 15 points per game, and he adds 4.5 rebounds.
VanVleet earned honorable-mention All-America status last season and continued his strong play as a junior by averaging 12.7 points and 5.3 assists. He is one of five finalists for the Bob Cousy Award, given annually to the nation’s top point guard.
"VanVleet is very smart, and Baker can do a lot of things that most people can’t," Zeisloft said. "They are two great players, well-experienced, and winning is definitely not new to them."
Cotton is a more complementary player, but the 6-foot-3 senior guard offers invaluable service as a defensive stopper in addition to his scoring average of 9.6 points per game.
"It’s a guard’s game," Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said. "It’s nice to have a Jahlil Okafor, Karl-Anthony Towns or Willie Cauley-Stein. We don’t have that advantage. So our guards had better play well."
Indiana has a strong defender at the point in Yogi Ferrell, so coach Tom Crean can leave him on VanVleet. The Hoosiers don’t have as strong a defender available for Baker or Cotton.
"They’ve got a couple of bonafide stars in Baker and VanVleet," Crean said. "He (VanVleet) is a great point guard, but Baker is going to play in the NBA, too."
Defensively, the Hoosiers fall below average overall, but they do well at cutting off the 3-point line. They rank third among Big Ten teams in opponent 3-point frequency and sixth in opponent 3-point percentage, which resulted in only two league teams giving up fewer made 3-pointers.
Crean said that to slow down Wichita State’s perimeter guys, the Hoosiers (20-13) must play with great defensive awareness.
"They understand how to set you up," Crean said. "That’s what I see with Fred. That’s what I see with Ron Baker. Those guys set you up, and if you get caught relaxing for a second, they’re going to go by you, they’re going to shoot it over you, or they’re going to cut in front of you, so we’ve got to be on high alert."