Big 12 Team Previews: Kansas State WildcatsPosted by cwilliams on November 8th, 2011
2010-2011 record: 23-11, 10-6 (3rd, Big 12)
Head coach: Frank Martin, 5th season
Key losses: Jacob Pullen (20.2 PPG), Curtis Kelly (10.5 PPG)
The 2010-11 campaign started off with extremely high expectations for the Kansas State Wildcats. Many pundits chose them to win the Big 12, and I personally had them going to the Final Four. Unfortunately, K-State began the season with more of a thud than a bang. They recovered somewhat and turned their season into a decent one, but ultimately fell in the Second Round of the NCAA tournament. This year the Wildcats will see what life is like without the spotlight, as they are not high on anybody’s list for anything. Gone is superstar Jacob Pullen and reliable inside force Curtis Kelly. But if the right players step into their proper roles, I wouldn’t write the fiery Frank Martin’s squad off just yet.
The Stars: Last season, Rodney McGruder was a third team all-Big 12 choice after averaging 11.1 PPG. All eyes will be on McGruder during his junior season, as he is expected to led this Wildcats team into the fray. Luckily for him, he will have the help of Jamar Samuels back for his senior season. Samuels has been deemed one of the more frustrating basketball players to watch by Wildcat fans. He has had games where he looks like he’s NBA-bound, and he’s had games where he looks just confused. He gets one more shot to live up to his potential this season, and I think he’ll take full advantage of that opportunity.
The Veterans: Jamar Samuels and Victor Ojeleye are the lone seniors on this Wildcat team. If Samuels can get it together on court, he can be the inside presence Kansas State needs, with Ojeleye providing locker room leadership. The Wildcats will need someone to rally around, and with no superstar like Pullen around to drive the team forward, it needs to be these two seniors.
The Newbies: In what has become a consistent trend, Frank Martin brought in some top notch talent to Manhattan this season. Adrian Diaz is a freshman center from Miami. He was one of the top-ranked recruits from Florida, and at 6’10″, Diaz’s size will be appreciated by Wildcat fans tired of an undersized frontcourt. Other freshman additions include Thomas Gipson from Cedar Hill, Texas; Shawn Meyer from Kansas City; Brian Rohleder from Wichita, Kansas; and Angel Rodriguez from Miami, where he was considered one of the top prospects from the area. Eligible transfers include Jeremy Jones, who led Seward County Community College with 18.6 PPG, and James Watson, a JUCO transfer from Cowley College.
Breakthrough candidate: While McGruder seems to be only improving and Samuels has shown that he has an abundance of potential, neither are my breakthrough candidate this season. I award that to Will Spradling, the sophomore guard who will take over Jacob Pullen’s duties on the perimeter. Spradling is a smart player with good court vision. He played in every game last season, and started six of them. I think given the combination of his three-point ability and his new role of floor general, Spradling will thrive in K-State’s revamped offense this season.
Why they’re better than you think: While their superstar guard and workhorse inside are now gone, the Wildcats still have many of the pieces available from last season. If things work out, McGruder is only going to get better, Samuels will recognize he has all the ability he needs, and Spradling will become of the Big 12′s top point guards.
Points of concern: That’s only if things work out. McGruder, a player who doubled his PPG total last season, will see more pressure on him, whether from the media or the opponent’s defense. Samuels has the potential I mentioned, no doubt about that. But after three years of not being able to put it together, there is a likelihood he never does. Also, Spradling could see some growing pains. He was great coming off the bench for the Wildcats, but we do not know how he’ll perform as a starter and the primary floor general.