Landry Shamet knocked on wood, or whatever the table outside the media room in Koch Arena is made of. He'd just described the biggest change in the Wichita State basketball team over the season's first three months and, superstitious or not, he didn't want to jinx it.
"Everyone's starting to get close to peaking individually, so that definitely helps," he said.
Shamet, the team's primary point guard, hopes that trend continues. March is when the team plays in the Missouri Valley Tournament in St. Louis and, barring a late-season collapse, the NCAA Tournament after that.
It's been an interesting season for Coach Gregg Marshall's program, not as glittery as some recent ones but far from lacking highlights. Through late February, WSU was 25-4 and beating opponents by an average of 19 points a game, the second largest margin in the nation. In January, a road loss to Illinois State dropped them to an unaccustomed second place in the MVC. A few weeks later, the Shockers savaged the same team by 41 at Koch Arena.
Shamet has been a key to the success. Through February, he was leading or among team leaders in assists, minutes played, scoring, free throw percentage and three-point percentage. His 3.2-1.1 assist-to-turnover ratio is among the best in the country for freshmen. He could very well be named MVC Newcomer of the Year, just as teammate Markis McDuffie was last year.
Marshall definitely sounded impressed when describing Shamet, a 6-foot-4 Kansas City native. "He can play the one, two or three" positions, Marshall said. "He's got a great assist-to-turnover ratio for a young guard three to one. He can shoot the basketball. He's athletic. Marshall went on to describe a game in Chicago last month, when Shamet cut through the Loyola defense, took in a pass from Shaquille Morris and dunked the ball. "We're excited about what he's doing and excited about what he can eventually become.
Beyond the stats and highlights, Shamet has assumed a leadership role on the court beyond the maturity of most freshman. During breaks in the action, it's not unusual to see him gathering team- mates around him to act as a coach on the floor.
"I'm big on positivity, keeping guys together," Shamet said. "Little things as far as letting people know what we're running, who's got who, little things like that."
Part of that may be because it's actually his second year in the program. Shamet played in three games during the 2015-16 season before a foot injury led to him redshirting and retaining all four years of eligibility. Shamet used the year to soak up what he could from two Shocker greats Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker before they graduated to the NBA.
Then again, according to all accounts, Shamet arrived at WSU oozing maturity in addition to basketball ability.
Shamet, one of the highest-rated recruits of Marshall's tenure, says he never doubted the abilities of this year's Shockers, not even after losses back in December to traditional powerhouses Louisville and Michigan State.
"That was early," he said. "I don't think at that point we were ready to beat those teams. I think we probably matched up well with both of them talent wise but I think we could have played a lot better. Shamet continued, I definitely wasn't playing very well. You could probably find a couple other (teammates) who'd say the same thing.
Maybe part of it was uncertainly about his role. Early in the season, Marshall experimented with Shamet, Conner Frankamp and junior college transfer Daishon Smith at point. By mid-February, Shamet seemed to have locked up the role, with a suddenly hot-shooting Frankamp at shooting guard and the lightning-quick Smith coming off the bench.
"Nothing too crazy," Shamet said of handling the basketball most of the time. "I think I'm still getting used to it, but definitely finding myself more and more settled in every day.
To make a postseason run, he said, the team will have to continue to play the kind of defense it has since conference play started.
"One thing we need to get better at which we have gotten better at is putting two halves together, being consistent defensively," he said. "Knowing that offense doesn't always travel, but defense you can take on the road with you and it will help you get wins.
Frankamp's late-season scoring surge has attracted a lot of attention. But as Marshall pointed out, in that same Loyola game it was Shamet who fed his backcourt mate and made the perfect pass that got him going.
The closest Marshall comes to criticizing Shamet is to say he plays "pretty good defense. He's getting better at that."
Shamet says the coach wants him to "just keep doing what I'm doing." Without sounding overconfident, he lumps himself in with the other Shockers who appear to be peaking at the right time.
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it. If you're playing well, doing things that are helping get us wins, keep doing that."