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.

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Big 12 Offseason Storylines to Follow

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 24th, 2017

The Big 12 had a decent but ultimately unimpressive showing in this year’s postseason. Of the league’s six NCAA Tournament teams, three advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, but only one advanced to the Elite Eight, and we all know what happened from there as Kansas flamed out to Jordan Bell and the Oregon Ducks. With the offseason now upon us and some time ahead to reflect, here are a few storylines worth following this summer and into the start of the 2017-18 season.

Frank Mason Takes His Hardware to the Next Level (USA Today Images)

  • How will Kansas retool? Frank Mason III leaves Lawrence as one of the most decorated players in program history. His wonderful four-year career won’t soon be forgotten, but it doesn’t change the fact that Kansas needs to figure out its point guard situation moving forward. Transfer Malik Newman can serve as the Jayhawks’ floor general in a pinch, but he’s more of a scoring guard than a facilitator and Bill Self has already said that he sees the redshirt sophomore manning the two. Barring a surprise commitment from elite point guard prospect Trevon Duval, the Jayhawks are looking at some combination of Devonte’ Graham and freshman Marcus Garrett handling the team’s ball-handling duties next season. Self also needs some frontcourt depth following the departures of Landen Lucas, Josh Jackson and Carlton Bragg, but the point guard position will be the most intriguing roster question as the Jayhawks begin their pursuit of a 14th consecutive regular season Big 12 title next fall.
  • A new era at Iowa State. Despite 47 wins and a Sweet Sixteen appearance in two seasons in Ames, Steve Prohm needs to show what he can do without the services of Monte’ Morris, Deonte Burton, Naz Mitrou-Long and Matt Thomas in the lineup. The job now becomes one of rebuilding for the Cyclone program, but there is somewhat of a foundation from which to work. Solomon Young, Donovan Jackson, transfer Ray Kasongo, Cameron Lard and highly-touted freshman Lindell Wigginton are interesting building blocks, but don’t appear to offer the ceiling of Hoiberg and Prohm’s best teams. The early going next season may be a little rocky as this group becomes accustomed to playing with each other, but a top-half finish in Big 12 play would be an admirable achievement. Fans should additionally keep an eye on Prohm’s pursuit of coveted JuCo forward Shakur Juiston.

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Big 12 Quarterfinal Takeaways

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 10th, 2017

Thursday’s quarterfinal round of the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City had a little bit of everything. While #1 seed Kansas wasn’t at full strength with Josh Jackson out of the lineup, TCU pulled off what could be the upset of the week in college basketball in moving to the semifinals. The other afternoon game featured Iowa State’s Monte’ Morris and Oklahoma State’s Jawun Evans putting on an entertaining show as the Cyclones treated their big contingency of traveling fans to a win. In the evening session, West Virginia wore Texas down in the only game that lacked significant drama, but Kansas State made up for it by winning a game it absolutely needed to stay alive for an at-large bid. Let’s get to the biggest takeaways from the day that was.

TCU guard Desmond Bane hit three decisive free throws after being fouled by Svi Mykhailiuk with the game tied in the closing seconds. (Nick Krug/KUSports.com)

  • TCU stuns Kansas, but the Jayhawks are still in position for a #1 seed. Prior to Thursday afternoon’s upset, Jackson’s suspension didn’t seem like a deal-breaker. Kansas had swept TCU in the regular season, including a December 30 win in Fort Worth where the freshman wing scored four points and fouled out in 12 forgettable minutes. As it turned out yesterday, however, Kansas sorely missed Jackson’s presence, especially on the offensive glass. The Horned Frogs, playing for the second day in a row, rebounded 78.8 percent of Kansas’ misses, about 10 percent above their season-long rate. Still, despite the shock factor, this isn’t a devastating loss for Kansas. The Jayhawks won the nation’s top-rated conference by four games, beat Kentucky, Baylor and Iowa State on the road, and outlasted Duke on a neutral court. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that when Kansas begins its NCAA Tournament appearance on March 17, it will be playing in just its fourth game in 19 days, and Jackson will be playing his first game in almost two whole weeks. The Jayhawks could benefit from some rest and a #16 seed will provide a chance to shake off any rust, but it’s a very different stretch from what the team has grown accustomed to.

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Feast Week Mission Preview: Kansas State in the Barclays Center Classic

Posted by Justin Fedich on November 25th, 2016

Kansas State is off to a strong start, going 4-0 with an average margin of victory of 21 points per contest. However, Bruce Weber’s team has neither faced a Power 5 opponent, nor played a game outside Manhattan yet. That changes tonight, when the Wildcats travel to Brooklyn for the Barclays Center Classic.

Catching Up: Kansas State’s undefeated record is in large part the result of a weak non-conference schedule. The four opponents the Wildcats have faced have combined to go 5-14 this season, with each one sitting below .500. Poor schedule notwithstanding, Weber has to be happy with a number of developments. Sophomore guard Barry Brown has made the biggest jump since last season, leading the Wildcats in scoring with 15.3 points per game. Brown was sixth on the team in scoring last year. The Wildcats have also enjoyed the return of versatile senior forward Wesley Iwundu, who is averaging 14 points, five rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. Sophomore Dean Wade has increased his scoring in each of the last three games, and totaled 13 points and nine rebounds in the most recent contest against Robert Morris. Kansas State will not be the most talented team in the Big 12 this season, but the fact that all five starters were on the Wildcats’ roster last season provides an unusual degree of continuity. Oh, and the other nice part of the weak early slate: Kansas State has been able to get its bench heavily involved. Against Robert Morris, 15 players saw action for the Wildcats.

Wesley Iwundu (25) And Barry Brown (5) Will Look To Help Kansas State Remain Perfect in Brooklyn (Photo: Wichita Eagle)

Wesley Iwundu (25) And Barry Brown (5) Will Look To Help Kansas State Remain Perfect in Brooklyn (Photo: Wichita Eagle)

Opening Round Preview: While Boston College will be Kansas State’s first Power 5 opponent this season, the Eagles don’t exactly fall under the quality opponent category. BC began its season with a home loss to Nicholls State, which sits at 317 in the KenPom rankings. The Eagles, like Kansas State, has yet to leave its home court all season. But while the Wildcat starters are all returning players, Boston College starts two sophomores, two graduate transfers and a freshman. The Eagles’ lack of proven talent gives the Wildcats a great chance to move to 5-0. The Wildcats, who rank 30th in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings, should be able to bottle up the Eagles, whose are just 201st nationally in offensive efficiency. Still, this will be the toughest opponent the Wildcats have faced all season. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 M5: 11.16.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 16th, 2016

morning5_big12

  1. Another huge game from Frank Mason fueled Kansas’ 77-75 win over Duke last night. Even though the Blue Devils were without three of its star freshmen, the Jayhawks withstood plenty of their own challenges — from foul trouble to ineffectiveness beyond the arc (2-of-16 3FG) to a bad night at the charity stripe (9-of-19 FT). The Jayhawks also blew a late double-digit lead, but it ultimately did not matter as Mason cashed in a game-winning elbow jumper with 1.8 seconds remaining, the last of his 17 second-half points. Beating Duke in any environment is a big deal, but this victory should yield some real dividends come March if the Blue Devils play to their lofty expectations once healthy.
  2. Entering the season, one of the key questions for Baylor aside from point guard play was how the Bears would account for the loss of Rico Gathers. It’s a remarkably small sample size, but through two games including a top-five opponent in Oregon, Jo Lual-Acuil has answered the bell, averaging 15.0 rebounds and 7.2 blocks per 40 minutes  in the young season. The junior will be challenged next week when the Bears head to the Bahamas and again in December when they host Xavier, so stiffer competition should give way to a more confident read on Lual-Acuil, but in the meantime, he’s been one of the big surprises around the conference.
  3. Switching gears from a surprise to a known quantity, how great is it to have Oklahoma State‘s Phil Forte back? I suppose you could ask head coach Brad Underwood, but he was still working for Stephen F. Austin when the senior suffered a shoulder injury last November. He’s probably grateful nonetheless. The Big 12’s new elder statesman has stormed out of the gates, averaging 27.0 points per game and converting each of his first 17 attempts at the free throw line. The Cowboys are still looking for answers inside, but Forte and Jawun Evans (28.5 PPG, 5.5 APG, 4.0 SPG) are showing why they should be mentioned among the conference’s best perimeter tandems.
  4. I’ve thought a little more about Kansas State‘s lax non-conference schedule, and while I still think it has a chance to backfire, it’s worth mentioning the potential benefits as well. Given that Wesley Iwundu and D.J. Johnson are the team’s only scholarship upperclassmen who have been with the program all four years, there’s a big drop-off to the younger core of sophomores Dean WadeBarry BrownKamau Stokes and freshman Xavier Sneed. This isn’t the most analytical viewpoint, but building confidence matters for a relatively young team, especially when its league schedule starts with a road game at Kansas sandwiched between home games against Oklahoma and West Virginia. Steamrolling the likes of Hampton, Robert Morris and Boston College wouldn’t lead anyone to picking the Wildcats to win at Allen Fieldhouse, but it can be helpful in the overall scheme with the league being deeper than it usually is. While I’d be remiss if I didn’t think there was at least a sliver of self-preservation by head coach Bruce Weber at play here as well, the general approach makes sense for a team looking to build some experience and confidence during the non-conference slate.
  5. Texas Tech will be shorthanded for a while as the school revealed over the weekend that big man Norense Odiase broke a bone in his left foot. While the Red Raiders have started 2-0 in spite of Odiase’s absence, it’s still a tough blow since he missed 12 games just last season with a similar injury to his other foot. For what it’s worth, Chris Beard doesn’t anticipate Odiase missing as much time as he did last season, which would be nice. The Red Raiders don’t have much time to adjust, though, with Auburn and a potential game against Purdue’s twin towers looming in next week’s Cancun Challenge.
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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. Read the rest of this entry »

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Kamau Stokes’ Knee Injury a Real Downer For Kansas State

Posted by Chris Stone on February 5th, 2016

Last spring, Kansas State’s roster was in turmoil. The Wildcats’ leading scorer Marcus Foster was dismissed from the team along with freshman Tre Harris. Thomas Gipson and Nino Williams, the squad’s second and third leading scorers the year before, had graduated, and freshman Jevon Thomas had transferred to Seton Hall. After the veritable Moses-style Exodus from the Little Apple, it was understandable to wonder how much time coach Bruce Weber had left in Manhattan. Yet, although this season hasn’t been the Wildcats’ most successful campaign, it has given some hope for Weber’s tenure after all. Kansas State is currently 13-9 overall and 2-7 in the Big 12, but the Wildcats are ranked among KenPom’s top 50, featuring one of the toughest defenses in the country (#16). Senior Justin Edwards and junior Wesley Iwundu have anchored a cohesive roster that is heavily reliant on three up-and-coming freshmen — Barry Brown, Dean Wade, and Kamau Stokes. The one unfortunate aspect is that Stokes, the Wildcats’ starting point guard, suffered a right knee injury in last Saturday’s win over Ole Miss that will keep him out “for a while,” according to Weber.

Kamau Stokes will miss extended time after suffering a right knee injury. (Bo Rader/The Wichita Eagle)

Kamau Stokes will miss extended time after suffering a right knee injury. (Bo Rader/The Wichita Eagle)

Stokes’ absence was immediately noticeable in a 77-59 loss to Kansas on Wednesday night. Without their starting point guard, the Wildcats turned it over 23 times, allowing the Jayhawks to convert into 30 points. Stokes is not the most sure-handed guard around, but he had reduced his turnover rate by nearly three percent in conference play so the large number of miscues didn’t surprise. Kansas State will also miss Stokes’ proven ability to score (he has nine double-figure scoring games on the season). Forward Stephen Hurt described him as “one of our best shooters” after the Kansas loss, and indeed, Stokes is one of just two players on the Wildcats’ roster shooting over 30 percent from behind the arc (34%). He’s converted 35 of his team leading 103 attempts, but Kansas State finished 5-of-18 (27.8 percent) from distance on Wednesday night without him in the lineup. Read the rest of this entry »

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Feast Week Mission Briefing: Kansas State in the CBE Hall Of Fame Classic

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 23rd, 2015

It’s Feast Week in college basketball. To get you ready for the Big 12’s representation in the various holiday tournaments this week, our Feast Week Mission Briefings begin today.

Catching Up: After a major house-cleaning where seven underclassmen left Manhattan, expectations for Kansas State basketball this season understandably dropped. Considering the circumstances, though, the Wildcats are off to a strong 3-0 start, avoiding some of the bad early losses that had made them a laughingstock over the last two seasons. An NCAA Tournament bid is still the absolute best-case scenario for this team, but the Wildcats look slightly better than their preseason projections, already climbing 13 spots in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings. As you might expect from a team lacking in elite talent, Kansas State’s early success can be attributed to fundamentals. They’ve rebounded well, especially on the offensive glass where they’re corralling 40.4 percent of their misses; and to compensate for a lack of knockdown shooters, they’ve paraded to the foul line a staggering 106 times and converted 72.6 percent of those attempts. Justin Edwards and Wesley Iwundu  have given the Wildcats the kind of production they need from their few veterans (averaging 17.0 and 15.3 PPG, respectively) while newcomers Dean Wade, Barry Brown and Kamau Stokes have made up for their inexperience with controlled play on offense — turning the ball over just a combined 11 times in 215 minutes of action.

Wesley Iwundu has been a steadying presence for a Kansas State team enduring significant roster turnover. (Scott Sewell/USA Today)

Wesley Iwundu has been a steadying presence for a Kansas State team enduring significant roster turnover. (Scott Sewell/USA Today)

Opening Round Preview: The Wildcats open up the CBE Classic against a team, Missouri, going through a rebuilding effort of its own. The Tigers have a bit of a strange makeup on offense. They have several players who can hit outside jumpers but that strength hasn’t done much to open up the lane, as only 30.2 percent of their shots this season have come at the rim. Like Bruce Weber’s team, Missouri has also gotten production from its newcomers, particularly Kevin Puryear and K.J. Walton. The Tigers haven’t rebounded well, meaning Kansas State should own the glass, but containing Missouri on the perimeter could be another story. Kansas State has dared its opponents to beat them from deep, but none have yet been able to take advantage. Missouri has shown that it can get hot, though, so limiting Cullen VanLeer, Terrence Phillips and Wes Clark will be important for the Wildcats’ chances. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 M5: 11.16.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 16th, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. Kansas had no problem whatsoever handling Northern Colorado to open the season on Friday night, blowing out the Bears 109-72. The Jayhawks’ scoring output was their highest since the famous Elijah Johnson game at Iowa State in 2013 (although that game needed overtime). Everyone played a role in Friday night’s win, but the most impressive performance came from wing Brannen Greene, who went a perfect 5-of-5 off the bench from deep. Like most players whose value is tied up in his ability to make three-pointers, Greene is streaky, so whether he carries his hot start into tomorrow night’s Champions Classic meeting against Michigan State will be something to monitor.
  2. Another big story on Opening Night was the inaugural game of the Shaka Smart era at Texas, but it wasn’t quite the start fans had in mind as the Longhorns fell to Washington in a sloppy, foul-plagued rockfight in Shanghai. The game’s 83 possessions were the most for Texas in a regulation game since a close loss to an uptempo BYU team in in 2013. Havoc is of course Smart’s favored style of play and brand — and there’s no reason to doubt that it will take off once he has his own players in the fold — but in the meantime, it’s also fair to question whether pushing the pace is the best idea for a Longhorns group prone to suspect shot selection.
  3. When it comes to the teams who have the best shot of snapping the Jayhawks’ long streak of 11 straight conference titles, an overwhelming majority of the talk has centered on Oklahoma and Iowa State. However, Baylor could be right there with those two schools if its 97-55 dismantling of a decent Stephen F. Austin team is a sign of its long-term potential. We wouldn’t expect the Bears to consistently post eFG% rates in the high 70s as they did in Friday night’s victory, but the big win should serve as a new reminder to not sleep on Scott Drew’s squad this season.
  4. Speaking of Big 12 contenders, Oklahoma was idle over the weekend, but the Sooners will face a tough opener on the road Tuesday night as they travel to face Memphis. The Tigers under Josh Pastner have been competitive over the last few years but their fan base has grown impatient with the team’s inconsistency and lack of postseason success. Still, Memphis features a deep rotation inside that could make scoring difficult for Buddy HieldRyan Spangler, Khadeem Lattin and JeMuni McNeace.
  5. Lastly, the handful of Big 12 coaches facing the most pressure this season enjoyed worry-free debuts. To start off, Bruce Weber‘s new-look Kansas State squad beat a terrible Maryland-Eastern Shore team. Wesley Iwundu probably isn’t cut out to play a starring role on a good Big 12 team, but he looked the part on Friday, scoring an efficient 23 points on just 13 shots. Freshman Barry Brown was very good as well, posting 17 points in his collegiate debut. Meanwhile in Stillwater, Oklahoma State cruised to a 91-57 win over Tennessee-Martin. The Cowboys were on fire the whole game in a way we haven’t seen in a while, as their scoring efficiency of 1.34 PPP was better than any single performance from last season. Phil Forte scored 24 points on nine shots to lead the way. The Pokes have a few more cupcakes before the schedule starts to heat up, so we’ll see if they can continue to be effective.
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