Big 12 Burning Questions: Kansas State Wildcats

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 26th, 2017

This preview is part of RTC’s Big 12 preseason coverage.

Will Bruce Weber escape the hot seat yet again?

It’s been a strange eight months for Kansas State basketball. In late February, with the Wildcats in the midst of a 5-9 slump, former athletic director John Currie abruptly left Manhattan to take the same position at Tennessee. The Wildcats righted the ship down the stretch just enough to limp into the NCAA Tournament, however, where it beat Wake Forest in the First Four before bowing out to Cincinnati in the next round. Despite the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2014, it wasn’t considered a successful year in the eyes of a fan base weary of repeated mediocre seasons under Weber.

Bruce Weber will look to a veteran core to shake off his critics. (Tony Gutierrez/AP)

The university didn’t hire a new athletic director until mid-April, well after the best time to strike for a new head coach. That’s not to say that Currie would have fired Weber had he stuck around, but it’s clear that Weber benefited from the sudden change. A few months later, new athletic director Gene Taylor gave Weber a two-year contract extension, and while Taylor can spin it however he wants, the financials and length indicate that he did so more out of an obligation to give his coach cover on the recruiting trail than as an affirmative gesture endorsing his recent performance. With three straight sub-.500 finishes in Big 12 play, a knack for wearing fans out with inconsistency and a penchant for taking things from bad to worse with regrettable postgame comments, Weber finds himself in the odd situation of being under the microscope in Year One of a contract extension.

Wesley Iwundu and D.J. Johnson are assuredly big losses, but the Wildcats have an identifiable and skilled core returning in juniors Dean Wade, Kamau Stokes and Barry Brown. Together, the trio accounted for 45 percent of Kansas State’s offense last year and will need to contribute more as upperclassmen — especially Wade, one of the conference’s most efficient scorers and three-point shooters. The key issues for this team are that Wade hasn’t yet proven he can be more consistent on a game-to-game basis and that the drop-off from that trio to the rest of the roster may be too steep to overcome.

The Wildcats have a pair of intriguing young pieces as well, but they don’t fill the need for size on a team that struggled to keep opponents off the offensive glass last year (ninth in Big 12 play at 32.5%). In his first season, wing Xavier Sneed showed some interesting offensive potential and is already an advanced perimeter defender, but a lack of consistency and focus make him a genuine work in progress. Redshirt freshman Cartier Diarra will make some highlight-reel dunks thanks to his 45-inch vertical leap, but he’s still getting acclimated to the game. Mawdo Salla and graduate transfer Makol Mawien add some additional depth down low, but if the Wildcats are going to utilize their best players, they’ll have to play small on most nights and compensate for the size disparity with offense and perimeter defense. Fortunately, the team’s schedule will give it a number of opportunities to do just that.

Last season the Wildcats went 11-2 against a lackluster non-conference slate, but couldn’t replicate that success in an 8-10 league record. This year’s non-league docket doesn’t look much stronger. They’ll play an underrated Vanderbilt team on the road in early December and could get a crack at Xavier in the Las Vegas Invitational, but there’s nothing else to write home about before conference play opens on December 29 at Iowa State. Kansas State has experience on its side and a supporting cast that could result in a return to the NCAA Tournament if everything breaks right, but it’s very difficult to feel too optimistic about that possibility. Even so, in order to rally the K-State community back on his side, Weber needs to do better than a regular season campaign just good enough to snag one of the last remaining at-large bids. He needs to find a way to get his team into the top half of the Big 12 standings, but with so much depth and quality around the conference this season, it remains difficult to see that happening.

Brian Goodman (987 Posts)

Brian Goodman a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.

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