If nothing else, the past two college basketball seasons should quiet the barking Kansas State fans who have been naysayers since the day Bruce Weber was named the coaching replacement for the popular Frank Martin.
Weber started out in Manhattan with a shared Big 12 title (mostly with Martin’s players) that was tainted by a first-round exit in the NCAA Tournament. Two years ago, though, the Wildcats made a surprising run to the Elite Eight. Last season, K-State (along with Texas Tech) ended Kansas’ 14-year reign atop Big 12 regular-season standings. That the Wildcats had a hand in the Jayhawks’ comeuppance was delicious for the Purple People.
While Weber might not ever be beloved, a combined 50 wins the last two seasons at least buys him some good will and time. With this season’s team needing to replace the top three players from the last two years, K-State is expected to regress.
“We have to go through some growing situations as a new team trying to figure out roles, who is going to get the extra minutes, who is going to be the guy putting up the shots,” said Weber, who has a 62.8 winning percentage in seven seasons at K-State. “I think my biggest fear is the gut-check part of games, the close games, who is going to make those plays.”
Top 3 story lines
Scoring the basketball. Dean Wade, Barry Brown and Kamau Stokes persevered and provided production during their K-State careers. Last season, they combined to average 38.5 points per game and Brown was the go-to player in must-score possessions. Finding reliable scorers this season could be a challenge.
Expanded roles. Xavier Sneed, Makol Mawein, Carter Diarra and Mike McGuirl are the veterans on the roster, but they played supporting roles to the Big Three. All must adjust to becoming the main men. Sneed, a versatile 6-foot-5 wing, pushed his NBA Draft decision to the final hour before returning for his senior season. Like the first letter of his first name, he could be the Wildcats’ X-factor.
Defensive maintenance. Weber’s teams have always made tough defense their top priority. Teams with that mindset aren’t always aesthetically pleasing (which is a reason why K-State fans have been bitchy toward their coach). However, with this season’s team likely to face offensive droughts, playing consistent defense could be the difference between a winning and losing record.
Number to know
Kansas State did something that had never been accomplished in school history: win at least 25 games in back-to-back seasons.
Reasons to hope
The four core players that Weber will rely on have spent their careers in the system and understand what the coach desires and requires on both ends of the floor. If they’re able to adjust to expanded roles and expectations, the Wildcats will have four solid starters.
Reasons to doubt
The starting point guard will probably be junior-college transfer David Sloan, who totaled 630 assists the last two seasons at the JUCO level. A savvy distributor running the offense could boost the offense, but making the jump from JUCO to Division I typically involves growing pains. Sloan will need to quickly adjust.
KenPom.com preseason rank: 49.
Previous: Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas.
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