Big 12 Team Preview: Kansas State WildcatsPosted by Brian Goodman on November 5th, 2013
This week, the Big 12 microsite will finish previewing each of the league’s 10 teams. Today: Kansas State.
Where We Left Off: As he did at Illinois, Bruce Weber took the wheel of a new program and immediately led it to a regular season conference title. Despite an unimpressive defense and an offense that relied heavily on crashing the boards, Kansas State outperformed preseason expectations on its way to a 27-8 record and sharing the conference crown with Kansas. The postseason wasn’t so kind, however. Kansas State bowed out to the Jayhawks in the Big 12 Tournament final, losing to Bill Self’s team for the third time in 2013, and followed it up by dropping a heart-breaker to 13-seed La Salle in their NCAA Tournament opener. KSU had a tough offseason as well, losing Angel Rodriguez to Miami and Adrian Diaz to Florida International, while also waving goodbye to graduating seniors Rodney McGruder and Jordan Henriquez. Weber’s most prominent players still figure to be those recruited by former head coach Frank Martin, but he’ll look to begin shedding the reputation he garnered in Champaign as a coach who struggles to win without the previous regime’s holdovers.
Strengths: Last season, Shane Southwell was one of the most improved players in the Big 12, as he doubled his scoring average and then some, going from 3.2 points per game in 2011-12 to 8.4 last season. Where Southwell especially shined was beyond the arc, where he connected on 44 percent of his 110 attempts after hitting just 25 percent over the prior two seasons. Kansas State figures to rely on Southwell heavily this season, as the Wildcats’ trademark of cashing in on second chance buckets is destined to take a hit with a smaller lineup. KSU will need to score on its first attempts, and one man who can help take the pressure off Southwell is junior Thomas Gipson. At 6’7″ and 265 pounds, the big guy knows his way around the basket and takes up a ton of space. He’ll be counted on to flourish in a more significant role on both ends after averaging fewer than 20 minutes per game in each of his first two seasons. Farther out, Will Spradling is one of the Big 12’s more familiar faces. While the senior is far from automatic, he shoots the ball well enough from beyond the arc to command the respect of opposing defenders.
Weaknesses: Despite Spradling’s experience and ability to knock down set shots from distance, question marks abound in the backcourt, assuming Southwell spends most of his time on the wing this season. Spradling is hardly a sure thing and Weber will need to find a solution at the point among a glut of unknown commodities such as freshmen Marcus Foster and Nigel Johnson. The Wildcats may also struggle down low until a capable complement to Gipson emerges. Sophomore D.J. Johnson is the only player taller than 6’7″ (6’11” Georgetown transfer Brandon Bolden will sit out the season, per NCAA rules), so the Wildcats will field a frontcourt rotation that’s much smaller than what fans are used to seeing.
- C – DJ Johnson (So., 2.5 RPG in 9.3 minutes in 2012-13)
- F – Thomas Gipson (Jr., 7.9 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 51.7 2FG% in 2012-13)
- F - Shane Southwell (Sr., 43.6 FG%, 43.6% 3PT)
- G – Will Spradling (Sr., 35.9% 3PT in 2012-13, career 83.4% FT)
- G - Marcus Foster (Fr., chose KSU over Cal, Creighton and Oklahoma)
Reserves: Weber should be able to mix and match as he gets a feel for the newer members of his backcourt. In addition to Foster and Johnson, 6’0″ freshman Jevon Thomas presents another option, but he won’t be available until the fall semester ends. In the frontcourt, KSU will have a few bodies to help Gipson contain the likes of Tarik Black, Isaiah Austin and Michael Cobbins, but none that offer the size that Henriquez and Adrian Diaz provided last year. However, despite his 6’5″ frame, junior forward Nino Williams is a very good rebounder whose playing time should increase. Wesley Iwundu comes in as a highly regarded wing, but it’s tough to see him getting meaningful run.
Set Your DVR
Considering the talent on the roster, Kansas State’s non-conference schedule is only so-so. The team’s biggest opportunities to make a splash will come during the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, though a semi-home tilt against Gonzaga will also be a challenge. Outside of those games, the schedule is very soft (although the lightning rod known as Marshall Henderson pays a visit to Manhattan in early December), so they’ll need to make the most of the chances they do have. They aren’t the most egregious offenders, but we think Bruce Weber could’ve done a little better.
- 11/21-24 at Puerto Rico Tip-Off – The Wildcats’ opener in this non-conference event isn’t against a marquee foe, but a win over Charlotte will likely give Bruce Weber’s team a shot against Georgetown in the second round. In a field that also includes Michigan, VCU and Florida State, the Puerto Rico Tip-Off should offer Kansas State a few cracks at building a Tournament resume worthy of attention. That’s especially important because the Wildcats don’t play a true road game until after the calendar turns.
- 12/21 vs. Gonzaga (in Wichita) – Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris are gone, but between Spradling and Southwell for Kansas State and Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell and Drew Barnham for the Zags, there will be no shortage of three-point firepower on both teams. Throw in a showdown between Kansas State’s frontcourt and Gonzaga big man Przemek Karnowski and this one should be a lot of fun.
- 3/3 at Oklahoma State – We’re fast-forwarding a few months into league play here, but this match-up will mark the fourth road game in a span of six overall for Kansas State. Not to minimize KSU’s two meetings against Kansas, but it’s very realistic that by the time March 3 rolls around, the Wildcats will be squarely on the bubble. A win at the Cowboys’ gym would do wonders for their chances as they get ready for the postseason.
Best-Case Scenario: Southwell follows Jacob Pullen and Rodney McGruder in the line of go-to seniors to suit up for Kansas State and combines with Spradling to perform well enough to take pressure off the Wildcats’ young guards. Gipson matures into a consistent threat in the low post, giving KSU more of a balanced attack. Without a true road game on its non-conference slate, Kansas State capitalizes on resume-building opportunities at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off and later on against Gonzaga (in Wichita) and Tulane (in Brooklyn). KSU goes on to finish in the top half of the Big 12 standings, faring just well enough to hear their name called as a six or seven-seed on Selection Sunday.
Worst-Case Scenario: Southwell falls short of expectations and the Wildcats don’t shoot well enough to mask their inevitable decline on the glass. Without a trustworthy point guard, Kansas State struggles in non-conference play and fails to compensate by getting enough league wins to impress the Tournament committee.
Outlook: The Wildcats come into the season looking to do something they’ve never done in their 108-year history: Make the NCAA Tournament for the fifth straight time. This is a solid team, but that proposition is a real toss-up, which sounds strange when you consider the fact that KSU is coming off a conference title season. Southwell, Gipson and Spradling have the potential on offense to carry the team to a Tournament berth, but the results have to be there. After the team’s exhibition win over Pittsburg State last week, Weber stated that his upperclassmen have to lead the way and allow the less experienced players to simply hang on for the ride, and we couldn’t agree more.