K-Stated

Kansas State Q&A: Bruce Weber, narrow basketball losses and football recruiting

Kansas State coach Bruce Weber motions to his players during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against West Virginia Saturday, Jan. 2, 2016, in Manhattan, Kan. West Virginia won 87-83 in double overtime. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Kansas State coach Bruce Weber motions to his players during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against West Virginia Saturday, Jan. 2, 2016, in Manhattan, Kan. West Virginia won 87-83 in double overtime. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) AP

It’s time for another K-State Q&A.

Readers were fired up to submit questions this week. I put out my Twitter request for questions at 2 p.m. on Thursday and was sorting through 30-plus questions one hour later. Let’s get right to them. Sorry if yours didn’t make the cut. There’s always next week.

This was a popular question this week. Judging by the way it was asked by some, I’m guessing a few of you are hoping my answer is: Yes and John Currie should have Brad Underwood on the phone ready to take his place.

But I’m not ready to go there. Weber exceeded all expectations in his first two seasons, winning a Big 12 championship and making two NCAA Tournaments. When things went south last season and a player exodus ensued, K-State gave Weber a vote of confidence and will likely honor it by giving him time (at least one more year) to turn things around with a new roster. Next year seems more like the put-up or get-out season.

K-State’s freshman class looks promising and the Wildcats started 10-2. Their 1-5 conference record is unsightly, but it’s not like they are losing games they are favored to win. The schedule has been brutal (six top 20 opponents already) and K-State was right there against West Virginia and Baylor, losing to both in double overtime. There’s no such thing as a moral victory, but you could argue K-State is better than its record. It has a KenPom rating of 44 and a RPI of 50. That’s solid, if not spectacular. Several bracket projections have the Wildcats as one of the first teams out.

Outside of K-State’s conference record and zone offense, there is a lot to be encouraged by. Things could change when the schedule lets up. It’s still early. Oklahoma State on Saturday will be very important.

Now, maybe that thinking changes if K-State only wins one more game. But I don’t see that. Looking at the schedule, I predict K-State to finish with 17 or 18 wins, and I think most would be content with that considering preseason expectations. I got e-mails suggesting the Wildcats wouldn’t win 10 games.

Kamau Stokes, Dean Wade and Barry Brown have all looked good to great at times this season, just never in unison. That’s part of being young. If K-State can get them clicking together, wins will come. This is a bad year to have a young team in the Big 12, but K-State will return more than seemingly every other team in the league next season. It’s too early to declare Weber on the hot seat.

There are two main issues in my eyes.

1. K-State lacks a go-to scorer. So when games get close late, it doesn’t have a player capable of creating his own shot and winning the game. Wesley Iwundu has tried to be that guy, but he’s not there yet.

2. The Wildcats don’t have much poise. They couldn’t make free throws that would have helped them beat West Virginia and Baylor and they blew a commanding lead in the final moments against North Carolina to lose by 10. Ten! And it looked like they had the game won. That’s youth for you.

If K-State can find a way to win one of these close games against a ranked opponent, things will immediately get easier the next time they are in the same situation.

There were a lot of close games two seasons ago, when K-State went from an overtime win over Kansas straight to a double overtime loss at Baylor and 10 of its conference games were decided by single digits. But this season takes the cake without digging too far into the archives. There seems to be no such thing as an easy win or blowout loss. It’s that way throughout the league.

You could go a lot of ways with this. Part of me wants to say Coors Light, because those come in skinny, silver cans and that matches many of Weber’s suits and his hair. But I’m going to go with Corona, because those taste best with a lime. And Weber does his best coaching when you add an outside ingredient like players recruited by another coach.

I wrote at length about this topic earlier this week. Thanks for giving me another opportunity to plug the story.

For me, the biggest issue is that K-State simply doesn’t emphasize recruiting. Bill Snyder makes maybe one recruiting trip per year and his coordinators aren’t on the road that much, either. Position coaches like Andre Coleman and Blake Seiler are good, hard-working recruiters, but they only carry so much weight with players. Let’s use a baseball analogy. The assistants are like leadoff hitters meant to get on base. The coordinators and head coaches are the cleanup hitters meant to hit home runs. You need both. And you need both recruiting year round, not taking a four-month break for the season.

I have seen recruits in other regions going on Twitter to share photos of an entire coaching staff visiting their home. K-State doesn’t do the same.

It’s commendable that Snyder values his current players and dedicates so much time to developing them, but when every other school makes time to recruit during the season that puts you at a disadvantage. More and more, K-State is failing to win recruiting battles with anyone of note.

Snyder’s uncertain future hurts, too. But I think K-State could recruit around that with some recruits if it put in the effort. His age didn’t stop K-State from lining up commitments in the spring and fall when coaches were actively recruiting.

Oh, they are definitely trying to finish out the recruiting cycle with a bang, but it will be difficult for the Wildcats to replace the recent commitments they lost with similar talent.

The top targets right now appear to be junior college offensive lineman Breontae Matthews and corners Tre Jackson and Caesar Williams. Both defensive backs are expected to visit K-State this weekend. If the Wildcats can land all three and maybe add a defensive lineman the 2016 recruiting class would suddenly look a lot better.

The next few days will be important.

Both K-State freshmen will redshirt and start fresh next season. There was never any doubt with Maurice, given his academic issues. And Williams couldn’t stay healthy. K-State sure could use one of them right now, though.

Start a campaign for 10 million people to move to the state of Kansas. With a huge population boost, that would theoretically make K-State a valuable TV commodity and other conferences would take notice. That’s all that has ever seemed to matter in conference realignment.

Short of that, I’m not sure what to suggest. Win a lot, I guess.

Expanding the playoff to eight teams and including the champion of all five power conferences would help, too.

I actually don’t think this is much of a real threat, though. The Big 12 just made the College Football Playoff and is kicking butt on the basketball court. The conference’s Grant of Rights will keep teams from leaving the league in the short term. That will give the Big 12 time to work through its current issues, such as what to do about a conference championship game and how to create a league network without upsetting Texas. And possibly adding two teams.

As of now, I don’t expect any changes.

True. Weber knows how to beat a zone defense. The man knows his basketball, and has gone into intricate explanations of exactly how to score against zones with the media all season.

Teaching players to beat a zone seems to be a different story. He hasn’t done the best job in that area, and he admits it. After the Baylor loss he admitted he wrongly assumed his players inherently knew how to attack a zone and didn’t dedicate enough practice time to it.

I vividly remember the line of students stretching from Bramlage all the way to Kimball waiting for K-State to play then No. 1 Texas. In the snow. That was cool. Probably that.

Most likely. K-State will need a top a six finish in the Big 12 to receive an opening round bye, and it is already looking up at most of the league. Check out the standings.

Texas and Oklahoma State have been inconsistent, so maybe K-State can pass them and finish sixth. But right now I don’t see it. I’m betting on seventh.

All I know is, every time I try to add a photo of Weber to one of my stories all I seem to find in our database and on the wire are pictures of him doing something zany. Such as the photo attached to this blog. The normal-looking picture of Weber on the sideline is like Bigfoot. Some claim it exists, but there is no rock-hard evidence to backup the claim.

Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett

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