Baker, VanVleet block out thoughts of possible college finale

Evan Pflugradt

Providence, Rhode Island — In the Georgia Dome Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet recorded a statistic they didn’t know would mean anything, it was their first Final Four, and their fifth NCAA Tournament game they had appeared in.

On Tuesday, in the First Four of the NCAA Tournament in Dayton, Ohio, the duo stepped on the court for their combined 22nd tournament game, an NCAA record.

“This time of year is really fun, and to be a part of it, it’s very special,” Baker said. “A lot of college athletes aren’t able to play in this tournament, and I take it for granted.”

Thursday, the two most experienced NCAA Tournament players will take on an experienced group, an Arizona team with three seniors of their own.

Arizona seniors Kaleb Tarczewski and Gabe York rank second in games played, two games behind Baker and VanVleet, appearing in a combined 20 tournament games.

In the round of 64 the two duos will meet, one ultimately sent home, the other will live as seniors for a few more days, or even weeks.

The four and five-year college careers of VanVleet and Baker coming to a close can’t help but pass through nearly every Wichita State fan, or even the players themselves, but they can’t help but try and block it out.

“It’s pretty easy for me to block out,” Baker said. “What happens in the future happens. And for me to make the most out of this tournament is very important to me, and that’s why it’s so easy to block out my future.”

Having appeared in 11 NCAA Tournament games, VanVleet has grown accustomed to the bright lights, the big arenas and the national spotlight.

“The NCAA Tournament is the best time we’ve had in college,” he said. “You deal with things as they come, and our future is in the future. We’re trying to stay in the moment.”

Wichita State brings five seniors into Thursday night’s game, each with their own personal determination and desire to succeed in March.

“Ron and I, we bring experience in the tournament and knowing how to weather runs and knowing how to advance and knowing what it’s like to lose early, too,” VanVleet said. “Anton, he brings the desperation and determination. He’s grateful to be on this team, he came here to play in the tournament and he doesn’t want to go home. He, Evan [Wessel] and Bush [Wamukota] brings the sense of urgency.”

Wichita State’s five versus Arizona’s three, after 40 minutes in Providence, only one group will still be seniors in NCAA basketball.

Arizona and Wichita State tip at approximately 8:37 p.m. in the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, Rhode Island. The game will be available for broadcast on TNT.