Kansas State University

K-State Q&A: Austin Trice, Mike McGuirl, Big 12 basketball and new football music

It’s time for another K-State Q&A.

Tons of great topics to cover this week, so let’s get right to them. Thanks, as always, for providing them.

It’s pretty simple. Austin Trice has not been good.

The jump from junior college to the Big 12 hasn’t been easy for him, and he seems lost whenever he’s on the floor. It will apparently take him a little longer than expected to adjust to basketball at this level.

That’s always a concern with junior college players as they transfer up, particularly big men. Sometimes they hit the ground running. Sometimes they need a year to figure it out.

I’m as guilty as anyone of (over) hyping Trice. His rebounding numbers from junior college made him look like the missing piece for this K-State team, which struggled mightily on the glass last season. But it hasn’t worked out that way. The Wildcats have improved in the rebounding department without Trice doing much of anything.

His minutes have evaporated, and it’s hard to justify his inclusion in the current lineup. Levi Stockard has established himself as the first big off the bench, and James Love has been more reliable than Trice. Bruce Weber tried to play Trice for a short spell against TCU and the Horned Frogs immediately went on a run with him on the floor. He left the game after one minute. Even when he has seen extended minutes, he’s been a liability on offense and at the free-throw line. He’s averaging two points and 3.1 rebounds.

The good news is he seems to have maintained a good attitude through his struggles. Weber says he is still practicing hard and hasn’t moped about his situation. He’s capable of helping this team, and once he figures out how to play within Weber’s system he will do exactly that.

I still like Trice and think he could have a bright future. There’s no doubt he’s a skilled rebounder and he plays with impressive energy. It may just take longer for him to contribute than some of us, including myself, expected.

Just right.

The Wildcats took a wild and interesting path to this point, but this is almost exactly the record I projected for them to have in late January. If they beat Texas A&M on Saturday, they will return to the top 25.

Question is: Can they continue their current level of play? Or is it just a hot streak?

I tend to think they can sustain things. They will be favored in their next two games. Then things will get bonkers when Kansas comes to town on Feb. 5.

I set out to try and answer this very question with advanced statistics and found that K-State’s defense has been about the same all season, with or without Dean Wade. But the Wildcats have made such a big leap on offense with Wade back in the lineup that his impact has also boosted the defense.

The Wildcats have surprisingly found a way to score more points while slowing their offensive pace to a crawl during their current winning streak. Imagine a football team that runs the ball down its opponent’s throat and scores touchdowns all the time. That’s K-State’s offense night now. They were one of the least efficient teams in the nation during their first 14 games, but they are among the top 40 over the past five games.

Scoring more and shortening games has made it harder for opposing teams to get in a rhythm.

But Wade is a good, underrated defender. He knows how to guard inside and on the perimeter. Plus, he can do both without fouling.

Best of all, his presence gives Weber more flexibility with his lineups. When Wade was hurt, the Wildcats had to play James Love and Austin Trice when Makol Mawien got in foul trouble. Those players brought nothing to the table on offense, which hurt on defense.

Now, they can go small around Wade or bring on Stockard. Weber isn’t emptying the bench anymore.

I also wonder if Wade has some sort of Voodoo magic he casts on opponents. K-State is an elite group on defense, but team after team is posting season lows against it. Kind of crazy how poorly teams are shooting against the Wildcats right now.

Anything that limits high-scoring games is good for K-State.

Weber is on a mission to win the Big 12 by coaching like he’s back in the Big Ten.

Can I say Levi Stockard? Or is he too big of a current contributor to be considered?

He’s been solid for the Wildcats on defense and a decent rebounder. If he could start scoring even five points a game he could make a really big impact. I think he’s capable of that, and will have a game or two where he scores some put-back layups and helps K-State win.

I’m still high on Shaun Neal-Williams and think he will help here and there. But his opportunities are dwindling with Mike McGuirl starting to emerge. Not seeing big things from Trice this year, but stranger things have happened.

Let’s pump the brakes a little on Mike McGuirl. This is his second season at K-State and he’s only been a difference-maker in three games.

He was great in those three games (Creighton, West Virginia, Texas Tech), but let’s keep things in perspective.

McGuirl has the skill and talent to eventually lead K-State in scoring, but 15 is a big number. Barry Brown is only averaging 15.4 points, at the moment. It ain’t easy to score that way all the time.

Ten points would be a more reasonable target.

Cartier Diarra and Mike McGuirl have a nice brother-in-law system going right now. They have more or less alternated good games lately.

Getting them to play well on the same night would be huge.

I think Weber trusts McGuirl a little more than Diarra right now, but it’s close. McGuirl has been the better overall player this year, and when he’s on he’s really on. Diarra had a dreadful outing against West Virginia, bounced back at Iowa State and has been quiet since. Seems like he has taken a small step back, while McGuirl has taken a nice step forward.

Depends on if K-State can beat KU.

If the Wildcats sweep the Jayhawks, they will probably be the outright Big 12 basketball champions. If they split, well, they may split the title. If the Jayhawks win both games, it’s going to be hard for K-State to claim any hardware.

Sorry for the basic answer, but that’s really what the Big 12 race may boil down to. Bruce Weber is 2-13 against Kansas. He’s probably going to need to beat the Jayhawks at least once this year.

The answer is basketball. Kansas has held an absolute stranglehold on Big 12 hoops, but other teams like Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma have the resources to win conference championships. The Red Raiders may have won one last year if not for Keenan Evans getting hurt. The Longhorns might be in the driver’s seat this season if not for firing Rick Barnes several years ago. The Sooners are always a threat under Lon Kruger.

Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma State could theoretically win it, too.

It’s a lot harder in football, and all the best teams in the conference reside in Texas and Oklahoma. Iowa State is currently best positioned to challenge the Longhorns and Sooners, and even the Cyclones don’t feel all that close. I think it will take a few years for new coaches to get K-State and West Virginia in title contention. Maybe Les Miles will shock the world and do it at KU.

Smaller rosters theoretically create more parity in basketball. One really good recruiting class could lift any team past Kansas. It hasn’t happened in the past 14 years, but it could happen. It takes more time and effort in football.

It’s a good question, though. Since the Big 12 was formed, only five teams outside of Texas and Oklahoma have won a championship in football. And only four teams have denied KU the trophy in basketball.

I outsource all of my rap questions to Manhattan radio king John Kurtz, so I’m going to let him take this one.

Here’s his rap playlist for next season:

  • Sicko Mode - Travis Scott and Drake (Bruce Weber’s Madness in Manhattan song).
  • Mo Bamba - Sheck Wes (a necessity for any sporting event, at this point).
  • Dreams and Nightmares - Meek Mill (maybe the best hip hop, pump up song ever).
  • Nonstop - Drake (Alex Barnes referenced this song multiple times last season).
  • Crushed Up - Future (new banger from an album that just dropped).
  • Going Bad - Drake/Meek Mill (the beat would be great for third downs on D).
  • Uproar - Lil Wayne (just when you thought Lil Wayne was washed ... he drops this).
  • We Ready - Archie Eversole (an ode to the old intro video with Ell Roberson).

I’m going with Skylar Thompson.

I like Alex Delton and think he could have a nice season at TCU, but there’s a reason he looked to transfer while Thompson stayed. Thompson has proven himself as the better quarterback.

Both players will enter new systems next season, so that could potentially alter things. But, for now, Thompson is the pick. I’m eager to see how he develops under a new coaching staff.

Dalton Risner’s draft stock has remained steady. He could be a first-round selection. If not, he will go soon after. It looks like he’s had a good week at the Senior Bowl, but there’s still a long way to go before the NFL Draft.

I bet he goes in the first two rounds and Alex Barnes follows in the middle or late rounds. I’m also curious to see how Duke Shelley responds from his injury. He could potentially be a late-round selection.

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Kellis Robinett covers Kansas State athletics for The Wichita Eagle and The Kansas City Star. A winner of more than a dozen national writing awards, he lives in Manhattan with his wife and three children.