Like everyone else, Kansas State basketball coach Bruce Weber’s expectations for next season dropped when Angel Rodriguez transferred to Miami.
Just not as much as you might think.
“Before the Angel situation, we felt very good about where we were,” Weber said by phone Wednesday. “That changes in that we have a bunch of unknowns now. It is so important that Will Spradling, Shane Southwell, Omari Lawrence and Thomas Gipson are great leaders. We need the older guys, the guys with experience, to be productive and not put the pressure on so many young guys to come through for us.
“We are still trying to win championships and a lot of things can happen. All we can do is worry about ourselves and getting better. We did that this year. Hopefully we can develop team chemistry and do the same next year.”
Optimistic or not, it will be a difficult task without Rodriguez, a point guard who averaged more than 11 points and five assists on his way to second-team all-conference honors. He would have been one of the Big 12’s top returning players and made K-State a contender in the conference race.
Without him, K-State returns three proven starters and no experienced point guards while Oklahoma State and Baylor return the bulk of their talent and Kansas welcomes a star-studded recruiting class.
“Expectations change when you lose an all-conference player, but that is part of college basketball,” Weber said. “Kids leave and go pro, there are injuries. Players graduate. It happened unexpectedly. I was surprised. We were all definitely surprised. I understand his situation, but it doesn’t make it any easier on us so we have got to move forward.”
Weber’s biggest challenge: developing a point guard. He will have to decide whether to move Will Spradling, a shooting guard, or Shane Southwell, a hybrid forward, to the point next season or hand over ball-handling duties to incoming freshman Nigel Johnson.
All three options are risky. Weber thinks running the point could hurt Spradling’s scoring. Southwell is a solid passer, but Weber would prefer to use his size inside or on the wing. And freshmen often need time to learn a new offense.
Freshman guard Jevon Thomas will provide help when he becomes eligible following the fall semester, but K-State’s backcourt will be a question mark.
“I think it will be by committee early,” Weber said. “Will and Shane are two of the best passers and ballhandlers on the team. Between them and Nigel and how some other things unfold we might have to play a little bit early and just see what works.”
Gipson figures to join Spradling and Southwell in the starting lineup, but the other two spots are up for grabs. Lawrence could play a bigger role on the wing, while both Nino Williams and D.J. Johnson are possibilities inside.
Recruits Marcus Foster and Wesley Iwundu will be factors as well. Out of K-State’s five incoming freshmen, Weber expects Foster, a guard named Texas 3A Player of the Year, to make the biggest immediate impact.
“We need scoring, and Marcus Foster is a pretty good scorer,” Weber said. “I think physically and athletically he is pretty gifted. You hope he can give us minutes. Wesley can give us versatility. He doesn’t have quite the shot right now, but he is going to get an opportunity.”
An opportunity that might not have presented itself had Rodriguez stayed in Manhattan.
“You can’t replace experience, obviously,” Weber said, “but I thought our staff did a great job of getting into scramble mode and making sure we ended up with some quality players that are going to help us next year.”
Weber said the Wildcats are close to finalizing their 2013-14 schedule. And their first trip to Sprint Center won’t come until the Big 12 Tournament.
“Part of the problem with Kansas City is, if you are going to go there you want a good game,” Weber said. “What happens the year after? You have to go on the road and play a quality opponent. Next year (2014-15) we have the Maui Invitational and the Big12/SEC challenge on the road. We already have some road games and a tough tournament.
“That was part of our dilemma. We looked for maybe the possibility of some teams playing us in Kansas City without a return, but we just couldn’t find a good enough opponent. I don’t think that is going to happen.”
Instead, K-State will play neutral-court games against Gonzaga at Intrust Bank Arena in Wichita and Tulane in a tripleheader at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. K-State will also take part in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, along with Auburn, Charlotte, Florida State, Georgetown, Long Beach State, Michigan and VCU.
The Wildcats are scheduled to host Mississippi next season at Bramlage Coliseum in the Big 12/SEC challenge. Weber said they will also host George Washington in the final game of a two-for-one contract.
A return to the Sprint Center for a nonconference game is a possibility for the 2014-15 season. The Wildcats played well in their regular-season trips to the arena in the past six seasons, going 5-1 with a signature victory over Florida last season.