One Burning Question: Is Kansas State Poised for a Breakthrough?

Posted by Nate Kotisso on October 26th, 2016

The following question has been asked within Big 12 circles all too often: Is Bruce Weber on the hot seat at Kansas State? We have heard that question a number of times since the former Illinois head coach first stepped on the Manhattan campus in 2012. The murmurs about Weber’s job status, however, reached a fever pitch following last season’s NCAA Tournament, an event that included then-Stephen F. Austin head coach and Kansas State alumnus Brad Underwood pull off a major upset of the Big 12’s very own West Virginia. Wildcats’ fans figured this would be the best time for the Kansas State administration to dump Weber and bring home their native son. Alas, Underwood was instead named the new head coach at Oklahoma State. Does that development (or lack thereof) mean that all hope is now lost in the Weber era?

Save for Kansas, the Big 12 appears to be in a transitional period. Is this the best time for Bruce Weber's group to pounce? (Scott Rovak/USA Today Sports)

Save for Kansas, the Big 12 appears to be in a transitional period. Is this the best time for Bruce Weber’s group to pounce? (Scott Rovak/USA TODAY Sports)

Actually, there is some hope. Let’s start with the ugly 2014-15 season. Budding sophomore star Marcus Foster struggled to get his mind right all year long. Players were suspended. By season’s end, the Wildcats were 15-17 and a total of 10 players had either graduated or decided to transfer out of the program. Weber responded by bringing in a massive seven-man recruiting class that 247Sports ranked ninth-best in the 10-team Big 12. And somehow, that team full of newcomers won 17 games. That brings us to present day. Wesley Iwundu, the team’s do-everything wing, is looking to start and finish his Kansas State career with an appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Fellow senior D.J. Johnson will anchor the frontcourt with his 60.8 field goal percentage and top-25 offensive rebounding rate (14.7%). Dean Wade, Barry Brown and Kamau Stokes are all back for their sophomore seasons after accounting for 39.5 percent of the team’s scoring a year ago.

If there was a year to unexpectedly shoot up the Big 12 standings, this appears to be it as Iowa State, Oklahoma, Baylor and West Virginia must all replace superstar seniors. But there are two factors that could hold the Wildcats back. Health is the biggest one. Stokes, the team’s starting point guard, injured his knee on January 30 and missed the final 12 games of last season. While Kansas State still found a way to beat Oklahoma a week later, his loss raises the question of whether the Wildcats could have been more than a 17-win team. Three-point shooting is the other key factor. Weber’s squad last season had no problem guarding the perimeter, allowing opponents to only make 31 percent of three-point attempts. However, the Wildcats were also among the worst three-point shooting teams in all of college basketball. At just 30.0 percent from behind the arc, Kansas State was the worst perimeter shooting team of any Power Five program. Help is on the way, however, in the form of some better-shooting incoming freshmen.

For K-State fans, patience is running thin, maybe?, for Bruce Weber. (Getty)

For Kansas State fans, patience is running thin with Bruce Weber. (Getty)

Xavier Sneed is the prize of this year’s class. While he’s better known for being an athletic slasher who can guard multiple positions, Sneed also has a respectable stroke from outside. The freshman who can make a real difference, though, is Brian Patrick. Recognized for his range and consistency, Patrick went a smooth 6-of-11 from three in Kansas State’s European tour earlier this summer. If the Wildcats can stay healthy and integrate better shooting into its offensive attack, perhaps we won’t be as surprised when February rolls around. One thing that is mostly certain is that the Big 12 will have a team projected toward the bottom of the league that will overachieve and reach the NCAA Tournament. Last season, that team was Texas Tech. Kansas State has the tools for such a run this season. We’ll see if Weber can finally build something that will last.

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