Big 12 Team Preview #4: Kansas State Wildcats

Posted by Nate Kotisso on November 9th, 2012

This week, we’re bringing you the obligatory team preview here at the Big 12 microsite. Kansas State at the #4 position is next on our list. 

The Skinny

  • 2011-12 record: 22-11, 10-8
  • Key contributors lost: Jamar Samuels
  • Head coach: Bruce Weber, 1st season
  • Projected finish: 4th

Bruce Weber is an amazing example of a coach falling up. (AP)

Let’s remind ourselves how we got to this point.

March 8: Illinois loses its final game of the season, a 64-61 loss to Iowa in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. The Illini finished the year 17-15 after starting off 15-3. By this time, Bruce Weber’s postgame press conferences were depressing to watch and listen to. He put everything in his job and even his opponents knew that, but you could sense his time in Champaign was coming to a close. The next day, Weber was relieved of his duties as head basketball coach of the University of Illinois. Fast forward to the 17th, amidst the madness of March, Kansas State lost in the third round to one-seeded Syracuse 75-59. They were without Jamar Samuels that day because he accepted an inpermissible benefit. Because their season was over, they were down but since they had a lot coming back next season, it wasn’t that bad.

March 24: Reports surface that Frank Martin has been in talks about the head coaching position at South Carolina. At the same time, he is a guest analyst for CBS/Turner’s NCAA coverage and is asked about the USC rumors on-air:

“In the age of social media that we live in right now, it’s crazy. I was scheduled to be at a press conference today in South Carolina and I was sitting watching a show in New York City last night. And obviously I’m sitting here with you guys today, so it’s … The stuff that gets out these days, I look at it as a compliment that we’re doing our job the right way at Kansas State that these sort of things get out.”

Martin took the Gamecocks job three days later. Go figure.

March 31: Out of left field, Kansas State hires Bruce Weber to be their new head coach. And the Wildcats community reacts. 

And reacts.

And reacts.

Whether he was a good hire back in March means nothing now. It’s time for Weber to make his hay here in November.

The Personnel

When a coach leaves for another job, it’s pretty common to see players transfer out of the program altogether. That didn’t happen (one player transferred) much to K-State. The Wildcats return 10 scholarship players from last year’s team. Ten. Boy, did Weber hit the jackpot.

It starts at the top with Rodney McGruder who was one of three players to be a unanimous selection for the All-Big 12 Preseason First Team. He’s as smooth a scorer as any in the conference. McGruder shoots a healthy percentage from just about everywhere: 46% from the field overall, 39% from behind the arc and 80% from the charity stripe. Wildcat fans can breathe a sigh of relief that Angel Rodriguez is coming back. It’s not easy being a point guard for a coach like Frank Martin but try being thrust in a starter’s role as a true freshman. Rodriguez did it and did it well. His assist-to-turnover ratio (3.2 to 2.7) will hopefully improve but other than that, he enters the season as one of the top PGs in the Big 12.

This is a big year for Jordan Henriquez. The senior forward will definitely see the most minutes in his career. At 6’11”, he does a great job of altering opponents’ shots and/or swatting them into the seats (2.4 blocks in 20.4 minutes per game). It’ll be fun to watch who leads the Big 12 in blocks between him and Kansas’ Jeff Withey. Don’t let last year’s numbers fool you (33%), Will Spradling is still a deadly shooter from outside. Thomas Gipson made an important impact for K-State last season off the bench. I hope he takes that “I am bigger than everyone else” mentality to the next level. Two years into his college career, Shane Southwell has been a bit of a disappointment. He was KSU’s top recruit back in 2010 and though touted for his defensive prowess, he was supposed to have an offensive game too but I haven’t seen it yet. Maybe having a new coach to play for will bring out the competitor in him.

Why They Might Be Better Than You Think

I don’t know how anyone would think the Wildcats will be anything other than good. This team is the closest thing to a sure thing in the league, aside from the Jayhawks. Other than Jamar Samuels graduating, it’s the exact same team. It’s like looking at a team the year after winning an NBA title: Everybody’s back to do it one more time. While a run to a national title seems like a stretch, I do, however, think the Wildcats can make a deep run in the NCAA tournament. They’re deep, they can score, they can shoot, Lord knows they defend well. Why not?

Potential Roadblocks

Let’s see: chemistry. They have that. Good/fiery coaching, they have that. Depth? Dang, they have that too. Uh, I could make one up. They don’t have… this. Yep, there’s your problem.

The Sleeper Candidate

It’s hard for there to be a sleeper when you know about on the team but I think I found one. D.J. Johnson is a freshman from St. Louis who is trying to break into the rotation the old-fashioned way: by force. Johnson was impressive in the team’s two exhibitions, scoring 10 points and grabbing seven rebounds against Washburn and then scoring 17 points and racking up nine rebounds vs. Emporia State. He’s got quite a frame on him (6’8″, 250 pounds) and if he gets regular PT with Gipson, Henriquez, and Adrian Diaz, there might as well be no basket for the other team to score on. Watching them play West Virginia’s bigs this year will be the closest thing to sumo wrestling in college hoops. Awesome.

Final Projection

I see a lot of parallels between this K-State team and the 2011-12 Missouri Tigers. They both hired less-than popular coaches with veteran players who all chose not to transfer. Now I don’t wish a Norfolk State type upset to happen to KSU in March, but I do see them as a sleeper to make the Sweet Sixteen. Depending on match-ups, of course, they could go even further. Probably looking at a 25 to 27-win season and 11 or more wins in league play. K-State, be glad you hired Weber before anyone else did. He’s a keeper.

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