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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Rushed Reactions: West Virginia 51, Kansas State 50

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 11th, 2017

RTC’s Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) is providing on-site coverage of the Big 12 Tournament.

West Virginia Pulls Off the Comeback (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Offense was nowhere to be found in first-half slog. In their previous two meetings against the Mountaineers, Kansas State struggled to hold onto the ball, posting turnover rates above 20 percent. West Virginia’s press didn’t frustrate the Wildcats quite as much tonight, as Bob Huggins‘ team generated takeaways on just 18.3 percent of Kansas State’s possessions. Instead, it was poor half-court offense, inaccurate three-point shooting and a lack of offensive rebounds that set the Wildcats back early — scoring just 0.78 points per possession before halftime. Those struggles would have been a much bigger issue had West Virginia scored more than 0.50 points per trip itself.
  2. West Virginia’s defensive adjustment keys second-half rally. The Mountaineers’ defensive identity as a pressing team is firmly entrenched, but it’s tough to set it up if you don’t make shots. West Virginia shot an ice-cold 18.8 percent in the first half and failed to score a single point 0ff a Kansas State giveaway until the second half. Huggins switched things up down the stretch, deploying a 1-3-1 zone that worked all the way down to the final play, when Kamau Stokes picked up his dribble and had nowhere to go with his team needing a bucket to win. The Wildcats connected on just four shots over the final 13:26 of the game, buying just enough time for the Mountaineers to make up a 12-point deficit.
  3. Isaiah Maurice provides another big body. Two years into his career, Dean Wade is still mostly a one-way big man who struggles to defend similarly-sized players. D.J. Johnson can’t do it all down low, so Bruce Weber needs another option. Enter the unlikely Maurice, a redshirt freshman and former Old Dominion commitment. Maurice helped the Wildcats contain Johnathan Motley on Thursday and performed admirably on Friday in 20 minutes of action. West Virginia shot just 2-of-15 inside the arc in the first half, with Maurice holding down the paint and altering shots by Jevon Carter and Nathan Adrian. Until Wade becomes more assertive on the defensive end, expect Maurice to continue to play a key role in the Wildcats’ rotation.

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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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Quick Reactions to Tuesday Night’s Big 12 Action

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 11th, 2017

With college football season officially in the books, hoops took the baton last night with five of the Big 12’s best teams on display. Though only one contest came down to the last few minutes, there were several key takeaways from Tuesday’s three league battles. Here’s what we learned.

Jevon Carter put an early end to Baylor’s reign as the #1 team in America. (Ben Queen/USA Today Sports)

  • The battle for second place is officially on. It’s worth noting that top-ranked Baylor entered last night’s game against West Virginia as a six-point underdog, but the Bears were woefully unprepared for the Mountaineers’ press, turning the ball over on 35.7 percent of their possessions en route to their first loss of the season. Baylor’s resume still shows a tremendous set of wins, but the one thing Scott Drew‘s team lacks — and West Virginia does not — is a true road win against an NCAA Tournament-caliber team. In dominating the nation’s #1 team from start to finish, the Mountaineers effectively neutralized their close loss against a Texas Tech team that may end up on the bubble. Nathan Adrian and the rest of “Press Virginia” have a good chance to keep things rolling over the next week with upcoming games against the league’s two worst teams in Texas and Oklahoma, which is about as much of a breather as it gets in this conference.
  • These aren’t (exactly) last year’s Mountaineers. In the first two seasons of Bob Huggins‘ retooled running and pressing system, the Mountaineers paid a price for their intense defense by finishing dead last nationally in defensive free throw rate. Year Three of the experiment has revealed a slightly different story, as the Mountaineers rank a more respectable 273rd (40.5%) this time around. There’s a natural ceiling to how much a team can limit fouls while playing such aggressive defense, but West Virginia may be finding it. The team’s depth is still an asset that can prevent foul trouble from becoming an issue, but it always helps to be able to keep guys like Adrian, Esa Ahmad and Tarik Phillip on the floor as much as possible. Another area where the Mountaineers have improved is in three-point shooting, burying 36.7 percent of their attempts from distance — up from 32.5 percent last season, and 31.6 percent in 2014-15. While West Virginia will continue to rely heavily on points in transition, the long ball gives them a weapon on night when they either don’t generate turnovers or when a considerable ratio of the turnovers are of the dead-ball variety.

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Kansas State’s Real Work Begins This Weekend

Posted by Drew Andrews on December 29th, 2016

Kansas State will begin conference play against a reeling Texas team on Friday night in Manhattan, and it’s about time. Head coach Bruce Weber should be commended for getting to the start of Big 12 play with only a one-point loss to Maryland on the Wildcats’ resume, but his team has played the fifth-worst schedule of 351 Division I college basketball teams, according to KenPom. The offenses that Kansas State has faced ranks second-worst in the nation. With the Longhorns coming to Bramlage Coliseum as the only Big 12 offense ranked outside of the top 75 nationally, it is safe to say that the Wildcats’ schedule is about to get much more difficult.

Bruce Weber Doesn't Yet Know What He's Got This Season (USA Today Images)

Bruce Weber Doesn’t Yet Know What He’s Got This Season (USA Today Images)

What has worked for the Wildcats this season is that they have been equally effective on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. Ranked 41st and 29th, respectively, in offensive and defensive efficiency, Weber’s team has shot very well from three-point range (38.8% 3FG) and smothered teams inside the arc (38.9% 2FG defense). Given the weak schedule, it’s difficult to know if these statistics are sustainable, but last year’s team by contrast was one of the worst in the country from beyond the arc (30.0% 3FG). The addition of freshman wing Xavier Sneed (38.8% 3FG) and the maturation of sophomores like Kamau Stokes (40.7% 3FG) and Dean Wade (40.7% 3FG) has led to a more balanced offense. No Wildcat shot better than 34 percent from three-point range a season ago; this season, four players have double-figure makes and are shooting above that mark.

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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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Takeaways from the Big 12’s Opening Night

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 10th, 2016

Over the last few years there has been at least one NCAA Tournament bid on the line during the Big 12 Tournament’s opening night. It was Texas making its case last season, with Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State before that. For better or worse, there was no such drama last night at the Sprint Center as the team with the shakiest prospects, Texas Tech, already seems safely in the field. The Red Raiders, however, may have dinged their seed with an upset loss to TCU. The games went on regardless, and Kansas State‘s win over Oklahoma State gives us a third game with Kansas in what will undoubtedly be a juiced Sprint Center this afternoon. Here are some quick takeaways on each team that played Wednesday night in Kansas City.

Kansas State Moves On to Face Kansas on Thursday Afternoon (USA Today Images)

Kansas State Moves On to Face Kansas on Thursday Afternoon (USA Today Images)

Kansas State. Kansas State’s offense was not pleasant in its last game against Oklahoma State, as a miserable 0.85 points per possession performance resulted in a three-point loss that effectively killed any hopes of a late season run. The Wildcats’ first half on Wednesday night was a different story, as they did a great job utilizing Dean Wade in the high post and Justin Edwards (four first half assists) in keeping the offense moving. This allowed Kansas State to build a 17-point lead that proved insurmountable. Wesley Iwundu admitted after the game that the Wildcats got “too comfortable” with a lead and let Oklahoma State back into the game in the second half. Their date with the rival Jayhawks will not be comfortable, but Bruce Weber said that his team simply needs to “enjoy the opportunity” and compete with them. Replicating their free-flowing offensive effort from last night’s first half will be the only way to challenge a Jayhawks team that hasn’t lost a Big 12 Tournament opener since 2009.

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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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