Kansas State’s Early Struggles Possible Sign of Things to ComePosted by Kory Carpenter (@Kory_Carpenter) on November 29th, 2013
Not much has gone right for Kansas State since capturing a share of the Big 12 regular season championship last season. The Wildcats advanced to the Big 12 Tournament championship game, was beateen by Kansas for the third time, then lost to #13 seed La Salle in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. Leading scorers Rodney McGruder and Angel Rodriguez graduated and transferred, respectively, and now, eight months later, K-State opened the season with a 60-58 loss to Northern Colorado, the same Northern Colorado team that was picked to finish fourth in the Big Sky Conference this season.
The Wildcats are 3-3 thanks to the Puerto Rico Tip-Off guaranteeing all teams three games, and that allowed them to grab another win over Long Beach State, a team which is #297 in the RPI and #230 on KenPom. The problems have been mostly on the offensive end for Kansas State. The Wildcats have yet to crack 72 points and are showing how dependent they were on McGruder and Rodriguez last season. Through six games, here are the key offensive metrics:
- 62.7 PPG (#326 nationally)
- 40.7% shooting (#293)
- 12.8 APG (#179)
Head coach Bruce Weber returned four players who averaged at least 10 MPG last season, but only junior forward Thomas Gipson has shown signs of improvement early this season. His minutes per game are about the same as last but his scoring is up from a couple of points per game and he is shooting over 55 percent from the floor, up from 51.7% last season. The other three players – Will Spradling, Nino Williams, and Shane Southwell – have either gotten worse or plateaued. On the surface, Southwell’s stat line of 7.8 PPG/5.3 RPG/3.2 APG looks just fine. But the senior guard has been an albatross offensively. He is taking over eight shots per game and shooting a paltry 33.3 percent from the field. His three-point percentage is even worse at 16.7 percent, but it hasn’t stopped him from taking three attempts a game. It became clear some time ago that senior guard Will Spradling isn’t a 30 MPG-type of player at the Big 12 level, but that’s about where he has been the last three seasons. With guards like McGruder, Rodriguez, and Jacob Pullen next to him, he can play as a serviceable third guard or sixth man in a pinch. But more offensive responsibility this season hasn’t led to better results. His 35 percent shooting is the worst of his career, as is his 24 percent from three-point range.
A lone bright spot has been freshman guard Marcus Foster, a three-star recruit who leads the team with 14.5 PPG in 30 minutes per contest. Without his unexpected contributions, it’s hard to say where this Wildcats team would be right now. Even with Foster, I’m not sure how much fans should expect the rest of the season. KenPom currently rates K-State at #89, better than Texas Tech and TCU but worse than everyone else in the Big 12. In the seven remaining non-conference games, the Wildcats should expect to go 4-3 with losses to Ole Miss, #11 Gonzaga, and George Washington, and four wins over teams with an average KenPom ranking of #285. That would put the Wildcats at 7-6 going into Big 12 play with few paper wins on the schedule and an uphill battle for an NIT berth. That’s where things get tricky. At Illinois, Weber’s first three teams were led in scoring each season by at least two Bill Self recruits, and usually more. In those three seasons, Weber finished first, first, and second in the Big Ten. He made the NCAA Tournament three times and advanced to the 2005 National Championship game. During his final six seasons with the Illini he averaged a fifth-place finish in the Big Ten, advanced to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament only once, and missed postseason play altogether twice. He was still recruiting four-star players, but nobody on the level of a Dee Brown or Deron Williams, two of the three leading scorers on that 2004-05 Final Four team.
I’m no recruiting expert, but Kansas State is no Illinois. Weber traded the fertile recruiting grounds of Chicago two hours up I-57 for Bill Self and Kansas down the road. Recruiting won’t be any easier in Manhattan, and the first wave of Frank Martin’s players are already gone with questionable results looking forward. If Kansas State don’t want those middle-of-the-pack conference finishes to repeat themselves, something will have to change with Weber this time around — either recruiting must improve, or his coaching the player he has must. That said, a middle-of-the-pack finish this season would look pretty fantastic.