Assessing the Season: Kansas State WildcatsPosted by dnspewak on March 28th, 2013
As the season winds down and the Big 12 teams continue to find themselves eliminated from the postseason, we’re taking a look back at the 2012-13 campaign on a team-by-team basis. Next up: Kansas State.
Final Record: 27-8 (14-4)
The Expectations: Frank Martin’s bizarre decision to take a job at South Carolina left the Wildcats searching for a suitable replacement. They settled on former Illinois coach Bruce Weber, who’d just been fired in Champaign. He was an intriguing coach because of his success at Southern Illinois and, of course, that Final Four run at Illinois and subsequent NCAA Tournament berths, but his tenure with the Fighting Illini ended on bad terms. In a way, though, he seemed like a perfect fit for Kansas State because of his similar intensity to Martin. He doesn’t appear as mentally insane on the sideline, but he’s a fiery defensive teacher and it was clear that the transition wouldn’t be difficult on that end. Once several Kansas State players announced they’d stay and play for Weber, it looked like he had a nice roster that could compete. Rodney McGruder was primed for a big senior year. There was a lot of size, a number of good guards and a rising star in Angel Rodriguez. If Kansas State could learn Weber’s patented motion offense and stick with the same defensive intensity it had under Martin, maybe Weber could win a lot of games. But there was no guarantee.
The Actual Result: The best-case scenario occurred in Manhattan. During the first two months of the season, KSU stayed in the background by beating up on bad teams and failing to win neutral-site games against Michigan and Gonzaga (in Seattle). Nobody knew what to think of the Wildcats — that is, until they beat Florida in Kansas City. Game on. From there, Weber’s team took off. There were some initial growing pains offensively, but from a defensive and rebounding standpoint, there were few teams better in America. Kansas State lost only six games during the regular season, four of which (Kansas twice, Michigan and Gonzaga) came against teams who’d been ranked No. 1 at some point this season. The other two came against Oklahoma State and Iowa State, both of whom wound up in the NCAA Tournament as well. Kansas State technically shared the Big 12 title, but it lost both regular season games to the Jayhawks and then fell to them again in the Big 12 title game. Nobody can take that shared title away from the Wildcats, though, and the 14-4 record is proof they had a really, really good season. But Weber even admitted after the Big 12 Tournament that beating Kansas is the next logical step. The La Salle mishap in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament last Friday will overshadow this team’s many accomplishments, but there shouldn’t be many complaints. It’s just difficult to see the winningest senior class in Kansas State history fall flat like that.
Highlight of the Year: December 22. In front of a friendly Sprint Center crowd in Kansas City, Kansas State made some heads turn across the country by knocking off eighth-ranked Florida. The Gators looked lost offensively against Weber’s guys (that became a trend in SEC play, of course), and they were no match for the Wildcats’ physicality or tenacity. It’s hard to call a December victory the highlight of the season, but in this case, it was the key win that got everything going for Kansas State.
Star of the Year: Rodney McGruder. It’s criminal the way we tended to underrate McGruder. His game is not flashy and he’s not an elite three-point shooter, but he does everything well on the basketball court. He can get his own shot and can score off screens, in the paint or from 15 feet. He rebounds really well, passes even better and always seems to make the right play. It’s not often your star player is also a glue guy, but that might be an apt description for McGruder.
Surprise of the Year: Angel Rodriguez. He had a solid freshman year under Martin, but as a sophomore under Weber, he looked much more in control at the point guard position. He picked up Weber’s offense quite well simply because he looked a lot more mature under pressure. His statistics increased across the board, and he averaged 5.2 assists against 2.4 turnovers per game — right around a 2:1 ratio. He’ll be even better as a junior.
Overall Season Grade: B. It’s an “A” if Kansas State had even won a single NCAA Tournament game. Unfortunately, that disastrous first half against La Salle was too much to overcome. KSU would have had a decent match-up with Ole Miss in the next round. Who knows where it would have gone from there, but you can’t give a team an A if if can’t win in March. That’s too bad, considering Weber did an exceptionally nice job with this team in 2012-13.