Yesterday we gave you our season grades for the bottom half of the Big 12. Today we bring you the top half.
5. Kansas State (22-11, 10-8)
FINAL GRADE: B+
Despite all of the personnel question marks and the graduation of star Jacob Pullen, you had the sense Frank Martin would figure something out. He certainly did, as his team weathered a mid-season swoon to finish strong and reach another NCAA Tournament. Martin may have left for South Carolina after the season, but his final Kansas State team fought hard in 2011-12 despite a load of adversity. A December championship at the Diamond Head Classic helped the Wildcats enter the Top 25 before Big 12 play, but poor offensive execution and a lack of consistency on the defensive end doomed the Wildcats during the winter. They weren’t playing like Martin’s teams usually did. They weren’t tough, and it showed, starting 1-3 in Big 12 play and dropping four home games in Manhattan. Oklahoma swept them. Things were getting ugly, and they hit rock bottom after a home loss to Kansas on Big Monday on February 13. That’s when Martin turned this thing around and solidified an NCAA Tournament berth. The Wildcats got back to the basics: defense, rebounding and delivering a knockout punch to opponents. Rodney McGruder stepped up his play as the team’s star, helping it win four of five games to close the season, including road wins at Baylor and Missouri. The controversial suspension of Jamar Samuels left Kansas State without its best forward in an NCAA Third Round game against Syracuse, but it’s impressive that this team even reached that point. With McGruder presumably returning next year, first-year coach Bruce Weber will have a lot to work with. Angel Rodriguez should be even better as a sophomore, and Will Spradling and Jordan Henriquez should grow, too.
4. Iowa State (23-11, 12-6)
FINAL GRADE: A
The Transfer Effect worked to Iowa State’s benefit this year. In December, we wrote a piece questioning Fred Hoiberg’s recruiting tactics, as he’d brought in four Division I transfers this season. It took a while for everybody to get acclimated, resulting in a couple of losses to Drake and Northern Iowa during an inconsistent non-conference stretch. But once league play began, this team took off. Royce White took the nation by storm with his wild hair and versatile play, showing an ability to run the Cyclones’ offense as a sort of point-forward. He emerged as one of the most fascinating and entertaining players to watch in college basketball, but the team around him helped add to the fun. These guys shot lights-out from beyond the arc, including senior Scott Christopherson, who finished with the highest three-point percentage in the Big 12 (45.5%) for players with more than four attempts per game. Hoiberg added a fresh energy to this program, leading ISU to a victory over Connecticut in the NCAA Tournament. His team even briefly competed against Kentucky before falling apart late in that matchup. There was no fairy-tale March run for The Mayor, but given time, his program may eventually reach those heights. The 2011-12 season marked a major turning point for the Cyclones.