Learning Curve Begins for Kansas StatePosted by dnspewak on December 1st, 2011
After losing star guard Jacob Pullen to graduation, Kansas State was one of the more difficult teams to peg during this preseason. Frank Martin has recovered just fine from past departures from Michael Beasley, Bill Walker, and Dennis Clemente, but there’s no question this 2011-12 team is vastly different than the squad that earned a five-seed in the NCAA Tournament a year ago.
And through three games, Kansas State still hasn’t answered any questions: it overcame sluggish first halves defeat Charleston Southern, Loyola Chicago, and Maryland Eastern Shore. None of the Wildcats’ wins were particularly troublesome, but they weren’t exactly convincing either. They trailed by 14 at halftime to Charleston Southern and led by single digits at the break in its two following wins. What do we make of these Kansas State Wildcats?
We’ll find out starting tonight, when they host a decent George Washington program at 7 PM. This isn’t the same Colonials team that once ran the table in the A-10 during the middle of the decade, but first-year head coach Mike Lonergan has his team off to an impressive 4-1 start. With a veteran squad returning from a 4th-place team in 2010-11, GW has already knocked off Detroit and Austin Peay, both considered favorites to win their respective conferences.
After George Washington visits Bramlage Coliseum tonight, KSU can also look forward to contests with Virginia Tech, West Virginia, and Alabama later this month. It doesn’t appear Kansas State will have much trouble on the defensive end this season, especially since Martin is the head coach. He has established a culture of toughness, and there is no doubt his players will fight for every loose ball and defend their tails off on every possession. The looming questions during this non-conference stretch involve the offensive end. Rodney McGruder must succeed as a primary scorer and continue to grow as an offensive option. He hasn’t shot well from beyond the arc yet, but his three-point stroke should come around. More importantly, can his supporting cast chip in? Will Spradling has cracked the starting lineup and is playing mistake-free basketball so far, and the return of forward Jamar Samuels (back from suspension) will help as well.
With a relatively young squad, expect some road bumps during these next few weeks. These handful of games against competitive squads during December will tell us a lot about the potential of Martin’s team, however. If they start to click offensively, there’s no reason the Wildcats can’t compete for another NCAA Tournament bid.