How bad is this team going to be?
That’s the question Kansas State basketball fans keep asking me. It’s a more popular topic than football injuries and bowl possibilities. K-State fans seem to be fascinated by Bruce Weber’s squad for its trainwreck appeal.
I get it. The Wildcats return four scholarship players, none of them double-digit scorers. They will lean heavily on six freshmen and a junior-college transfer. After losing seven underclassmen and two seniors from last season’s disastrous 15-win campaign, former walk-on Brian Rohleder is the locker-room leader. Big 12 coaches picked K-State to finish tied with TCU for eighth in the league’s preseason poll.
There are many reasons to discount the Wildcats.
Still, whenever someone asks how bad they are going to be, I remind them the sky isn’t falling.
Will K-State make the NCAA Tournament? No. Is the NIT a stretch? Yes. But this won’t be a historically awful season. The Wildcats could even finish with a winning record.
They won’t have as much talent as they did last season without Marcus Foster, but they won’t have as much drama, either. This is a closer team, filled with overlooked recruits that are eager to play in the Big 12. Suspensions, bickering and unexplainable losses should be things of the past.
K-State may not have the shooters to sweep Oklahoma and knock off Kansas or Iowa State, as it did a year ago. But it should have the wherewithal to take care of business when it is favored, unlike last season.
Nonconference games against Missouri, Georgia, Texas A&M, Colorado State, Mississippi and Saint Louis will be important. Split those games, win the rest, and K-State will enter Big 12 play with 10 victories.
Add on a mediocre conference run – six league victories, including the conference tournament – and that would top last season, giving K-State something to build on with a young roster.
Dean Wade, a freshman from St. John, could surprise right away. So could freshman guard Barry Brown and freshman swingman Ron Freeman. If Kamau Stokes and Carlbe Ervin can provide solid play at point guard, the Wildcats will be competitive.
It will be up to Justin Edwards and Wesley Iwundu to take things further. Both players are incredible athletes. They were also colossal flops last season. Edwards, billed as the team’s leading scorer in the preseason, averaged 6.3 points. Iwundu regressed, averaging 5.8 points.
The door is open for them to carry the scoring load. Will they walk through it?
D.J. Johnson should give K-State a boost inside, and Stephen Hurt can be a difference maker on offense as a stretch power forward, but the Wildcats lack a true center. Rebounding and blocks could be hard to come by.
This is a small, inexperienced and flawed team, but it also has something to prove. Iwundu says their mascot might as well be an underdog.
Expectations are understandably low. Just don’t be surprised if K-State surpasses them.