Bob Lutz

Bruce Weber yet to prove himself as Kansas State’s future

Bruce Weber’s Big 12 record got worse for three consecutive seasons before a slight improvement so far this season.
Bruce Weber’s Big 12 record got worse for three consecutive seasons before a slight improvement so far this season. The Wichita Eagle

Under Frank Martin, the Kansas State basketball team made it to four NCAA Tournaments in five seasons, won at least one game in every tournament and made it to the Elite Eight in 2010.

Those six NCAA wins are the only six the Wildcats have had since another Elite Eight run in 1988.

That object in K-State’s rear-view mirror — in this case, Martin — is larger than it appears.

But it didn’t work out for Martin to stay at K-State and he’s now trying to build South Carolina from the ground up.

His replacement, Bruce Weber, is under fire. Poor Weber seems always to be under fire.

K-State is 17-10 and 6-8 in the Big 12, yet somehow ESPN’s Joe Lunardi still has the Cats in his bracket as an 11-seed. That’s because of wins over Baylor and West Virginia, plain and simple. But it would seem K-State, with four Big 12 games remaining, needs to at least get to .500 in the conference to hold its spot.

The Wildcats have Oklahoma State at home Wednesday, followed by road games against Oklahoma and TCU. K-State wraps up its regular season with a home game against Texas Tech on March 4.

Back to Weber, who hasn’t gotten his team into the tournament the past two seasons. Now in his fifth year, Weber has not won an NCAA Tournament game, losing to Kentucky and La Salle in 2013 and 2014.

K-Staters have not warmed to Weber, who has the misfortune of coaching in the same conference as Kansas and in the same state as Bill Self, whose Jayhawks are chasing their 13th consecutive Big 12 title.

It’s easy to get swallowed up by such success and Weber lacks the boisterous personality of Martin to make himself heard over the loud roar emanating from Lawrence, a roar that will not stop.

Weber is a good coach as proven from his time at Southern Illinois and Illinois. K-State is a good team. But good doesn’t cut it when the school 85 miles away is cutting down nets, raising banners and producing All-America talent.

As K-State fans ponder the future of Weber, a future many hope will be somewhere other than Manhattan, it’s fair to also acknowledge reality.

Sometimes, reality bites.

Just what kind of basketball job is K-State? What kind of coach can the Wildcats attract?

Yes, K-State was able to lure Bob Huggins a season after he had been forced out at Cincinnati after issues with the university’s president. And Huggins brought along Martin, who took over when Huggins left for West Virginia.

Those were good times. But they are times Weber has been unable to duplicate.

It’s interesting to contemplate K-State’s upside in basketball. Yes, it’s a school with incredibly proud basketball tradition, but enough years have passed that you better have a flashlight if you’re looking for the glory.

The Wildcats have been to four Final Fours — in 1948, 1951, 1958 and 1964. They’ve made it to 28 NCAA Tournaments, but made it twice in 17 seasons from 1991 through 2007.

If Weber can pull his team into another NCAA Tournament this season, does he buy more time? What about a win or two in the NCAAs? Then what?

Weber clearly needs to make something happen. This is an interesting K-State team that has proven it can play with anyone and took KU to the wire in both regular-season meetings. But the Wildcats have lost a bunch of close games and at times have appeared disconnected from the moment, as was the case in a home game against Iowa State last week.

The Wildcats lack depth, but have a talented group. They wouldn’t be a great draw for a higher-seeded team, depending on which K-State team showed up.

The key, at least for Weber’s job security, is getting there. To be in a power conference and miss the NCAAs for a third consecutive season, after making it twice, would be tough for the coach.

I don’t sense that K-State fans have nonsensical expectations. Competing to finish in the upper half of the Big 12 is reasonable, as is getting to the NCAA Tournament more often than not and occasionally winning some games.

But since tying KU for first place in the Big 12 in 2012-13, with a bunch of Martin’s recruits, Weber’s K-State teams have fallen off to fifth, sixth (tie), eighth and sixth (tie) this season. The Wildcats’ Big 12 record has declined steadily, too,: 14-4, 10-8, 8-10 and 5-13. K-State is 6-8 this season with four to go.

Sophomores Dean Wade, Barry Brown and Kamau Stokes, along with freshman Xavier Sneed, look like good building blocks. Eventually, though, something has to get built.

You can’t live in a foundation.

K-State coach Bruce Weber talks about Monday's loss to Kansas. (Feb. 6, 2017)

Kansas State Coach Bruce Weber, flanked by Barry Brown and Wesley Iwundu, said the Wildcats made good decisions in their 79-75 victory over No. 7 West Virginia.