Kansas State has the talent to qualify for its fourth straight NCAA Tournament, and, if everything falls into place, to make some noise once it gets there. But college basketball is never that simple. Potential is only part of the equation.
The Wildcats’ success will likely come down to how quickly four returning starters and a roster loaded with experience plays for Bruce Weber’s new coaching staff.
So far, players are saying all the right things about their new coach. They seem to like his motion offense and laid-back sideline demeanor. A few players who likely would have transferred had former coach Frank Martin stayed are undoubtedly excited about a new start. But the only thing that will truly earn Weber respect is wins.
History indicates Weber can produce quickly into a new job. Southern Illinois showed improvement in his first year, and he guided Illinois to the Sweet 16, the national championship game and two Big Ten titles in his first two seasons.
He inherited a roster loaded with future NBA talent at Illinois, and though this K-State group isn’t that talented, seniors Rodney McGruder and Jordan Henriquez are one of the top inside-outside duos in the Big 12.
McGruder was one of the top small forwards in the nation last year, and is capable of leading the Wildcats in both points and rebounds. He should benefit from Weber’s up-tempo style. Henriquez had a fabulous postseason, but was maddeningly inconsistent before that point. Can he put it all together in his final year?
If he does, and guards Angel Rodriguez and Will Spradling also improve, K-State could exceed expectations. It was picked to finish fifth in the conference.
The biggest question marks: Who will start inside with Henriquez? Who will provide key minutes off the bench? And who will raise the intensity level without Martin around?
Adrian Diaz showed potential inside in K-State’s first exhibition game, and his height gives the Wildcats an advantage on most teams. Shane Southwell, Omari Lawrence and Nino Williams should play much larger roles than they have in previous seasons. And DJ Johnson has shown more promise than Weber expected. Thomas Gipson, who started 22 games last year, seems to have started slowly under Weber, though.
K-State will have plenty of time to figure everything out. Its nonconference schedule is soft other than a probable trip to the NIT Season Tip-Off in New York and neutral-court games against Gonzaga (at Seattle) and Florida (Kansas City, Mo.). The Wildcats shouldn’t have many losses when Big 12 play begins in January.
That’s when the real test begins. Hopes are high that Weber’s coaching will have sunk in by then, and K-State will be ready to get off to a fast start in the league race.
If they can, it should be a good season. The talent is there. If it accepts the new coaching staff, the wins will be, too.