North Dakota (0-0): North Dakota is picked to finish fourth in the Big Sky conference after winning back-to-back Great West tournament championships. North Dakota is hoping to make a splash in its new league behind four returning starters. Webb is a playmaker during last year’s conference tournament. Huff is an established wing player. Mitch Wilmer could give K-State trouble inside. At 6-11, he will be able to defend K-State’s big men.
2011-12 averages listed; x-assists
Kansas State (0-0, 0-0):Henriquez didn’t enjoy playing in front of a small crowd during K-State’s two exhibition games, and took to Twitter to voice his displeasure. But after countless interactions, he is confident Bramlage Coliseum will be full during important games. Even if it is sparsely attended again Friday. “It’s up to the fans if they are going to show up or not,” Henriquez said. “… It’s part of the game, I guess. When we’re winning, they will show up.” Expect Thomas Gipson and DJ Johnson to play close to 20 minutes. Both should rotate inside with Diaz. Keep an eye on Michael Orris. If the freshman guard doesn’t play, he will be a candidate to redshirt.
He has coached them in Brazil and has coached them at Bramlage Coliseum, but Bruce Weber has not taken the court with the Kansas State Wildcats for a regular-season basketball game.
That will change at 8 p.m. Friday, when they take on North Dakota.
It will be his third official coaching debut with a new program in the past 14 years, and he has lived in Manhattan long enough to feel at home in his surroundings. Still, he will be nervous.
“It’s just part of the whole process, adapting to what we believe in, the style and getting to know each other,” Weber said. “Each (exhibition) game meant something. When we went on the court that’s what we talked about all the time.
“Every practice, every game, it means something, so you should be playing at your best. But this counts. This counts on your record. Hopefully they come ready to play.”
They should. Not only do the Wildcats enter the season with hopes of big wins and a return to the NCAA Tournament, they enter the season competing for playing time.
Seniors Rodney McGruder and Jordan Henriquez will likely start Friday, and so will sophomore point guard Angel Rodriguez. But the other two spots? They are up for grabs along with minutes off the bench.
“I asked the coaches who we should start in the meeting this morning and we had about seven different answers,” Weber said. “I don’t think it matters … I hope I can get into a routine, but until guys prove it consistently, each game might be a little different. Each half might be a little different. The thing I am trying to get them to understand is you’ve got to come every day and earn your minutes and be consistent.”
Freshman forward DJ Johnson is a good example of the progress Weber wants from his players. When he arrived at K-State, he didn’t know how to score against lengthy defenders, and K-State coaches thought about asking him to redshirt.
“He’s our leading scorer and leading rebounder,” Weber said. “It’s hard to redshirt him.”
Johnson played well in K-State’s two exhibition games, and had 17 points and nine rebounds against Emporia State.
“I’m getting a little better each week,” Johnson said.
Henriquez thinks Johnson has helped K-State’s front line mature in preseason practices. He hopes it continues to grow in the coming months. It will need to. As the season moves on, K-State will see nothing but bigger and stronger frontcourts.
For now, though, he isn’t worried about that. A new season is about to start. That’s always cause for excitement.
“I can’t wait,” Henriquez said. “I’m finally there. There are a lot of huge expectations for us as a team. We set our goals high so we have to be ready for whatever is in front of us.”