BOTC Focus Group: Ready For Conference Play

After a long hiatus, the BOTC Focus Group is back.  To the usual cast of characters (TB, Panjandrum, EMAW, ksubaily and mystman995) we have added BracketCat.  As always, feel free to give us your answers in the comments.  On to this week's questions:

1.  We've been on a roller-coaster with the football coaching staff.  Now that the staff is almost complete, give us your thoughts on the staff as a whole and any individual members.
 
2.  Conference basketball draws nigh for the Big 12.  What are your overall projections for the Cats, and the conference as a whole?
 
3.  K-State opens conference basketball this weekend when Oklahoma comes to Manhattan.  Predictions?
 
4.  The undefeated women's basketball team takes on KU this weekend.  Can the Cats repeat as Big 12 champions?
 
5.  Time for a walk down history lane, because I've been watching the K-State Basketball: Tradition of Champions DVDs.  If you could choose just one "moment" in the history of K-State basketball to go back and witness, what would it be?

TB:

1.  Overall, I'm pretty pleased.  For a while there, I was concerned we were going to end up with a bunch of retreads from the 2004 and 2005 staffs, but Bill Snyder really came through.  Picking up Vic Koenning stands out to me as the splash hire, and after watching his former team, Clemson, against Nebraska, I was impressed.  I actually texted Panjandrum at one point because Clemson properly defended Nebraska's bootleg play, something that we failed to do in about 582 attempts against NU this year.  Also, Ludwig and Dickey appear to be pretty good pickups after their Sugar Bowl performance against Alabama.
 
My only question will be recruiting ability of this staff.  We don't really have anyone that's known as a dynamic young recruiter in the mix.  Let's hope that this staff figures out how to get back into Texas and improves the sorry state of our current class for next year, which ranks right up there with traditional powers such as Miami (Ohio) and (Middle) Tennessee.
 
2.  I keep going back and forth with this team.  Each time I watch the Cats, I see all the ability in the world put to work in dismantling weak Division I teams.  But each time I start thinking of winning 11 conference games, I remember bitter defeats to Kentucky, Iowa and Oregon.  Until this team steps into the ring with a major-conference team and sends them to defeat, I should probably hedge my bets.  But I look at the schedule and I can see 10 wins this season.  In the North, we should be able to sweep Colorado, Iowa State and Nebraska.  That's six wins.  Mizzou is much-improved this year, so it will be paramount that we at least split with them, as a sweep at the Tigers' hands would be a disaster.  With KU being down a bit, it would be big for the momentum of this program to pick up a split with them.  Let's say we get eight wins against North foes.
 
That leaves us with road games against UT, Texas A&M, and Oklahoma State, and home games against Baylor, Texas Tech and Oklahoma from the South.  I'll go a little pessimistic here and say we only get two wins out of those six (Texas Tech and either Okie State or Baylor).  That's still 10 conference wins if we take care of business in the North.
 
For the conference overall, I still think Oklahoma has the inside track to take the regular-season crown.  With the conference tournament in OKC this season, they should have a big home-court advantage in the tournament, too.  Despite some inconsistency, Texas should have something to say about OU taking the top spot.  Damn, I'm getting tired of watching those two teams battle it out.
 
3.  As much as I want to, I just can't go with Ken Pomeroy and project a K-State victory in this game.  I'll be in attendance -- back in the student section, baby -- and will undoubtely be without a voice by the end of the game.  But I can't get over the fear that Blake Griffin and Willie Warren will be too good of a combo for us to overcome.  Call it Sooners 74, Cats 70.
 
4.  Absolutely.  They are playing fantastic ball right now.  I would need to do a little more looking into the conference, but my very basic information informs me that we should be very happy not to be playing in the brutal South division this season.  Five South teams are ranked in the current top 25.  If we can beat up on the North and hold our own against the South, we could very well be the top seed in OKC this March.
 
5.  If you haven't watched the Tradition of Champions DVDs, you should.  They're tremendous.  Props to Brian Smoller and everyone else who busted their butt on that project.
 
I can't really point to one individual game, so I'll just say any Sunflower Showdown in Ahearn Fieldhouse.  Watching the segment about Ahearn, it just about broke my heart to realize I'd never get to see a game in that dusty, sweay old barn.  Watching women's volleyball games in front of 4,000 fans in one corner of Ahearn was a memorable experience; I can't imagine what a nationally ranked men's basketball squad in front of 11,000 must have been like.  I'll just go ahead and say it right now: when Bramlage's time is up, put the money for a new arena into renovating the old one.

BracketCat:

1. Dramatic, dramatic improvement. Any one of these coaches just about has more of a Division I resume than Prince's entire last staff. And even in cases where Prince coaches were retained, they've essentially received demotions more in keeping with their experience level. Dave Brock goes from offensive coordinator to just wide receivers coach, for example. And apparently Ricky Rahne is staying on as a full-time coach until signing day, so we can mine those Colorado connections of his, and then will move back to a GA position to finish his master's, but he will continue to coach the running backs. That's a coup.

Three months ago I jumped on the "Hire Patterson" bandwagon, but my tag line was "Patterson/Koenning '08," so that tells you where I stand on our new DC. Andy Ludwig was a pleasant surprise, but Bill Snyder's fingerprints will still be all over this offense. Charlie Dickey, our first truly accomplished OL coach in a decade, and competent defensive assistants were the key hires that Snyder had to hit out of the ballpark, and he seems to have done so. Keeping Rodgers as special teams and recruiting coordinator is just a bonus.

The Man has a plan...

2. 10-6 minimum. It's time for people to stop talking about the NIT and under-selling what Frank is building here. The ONLY thing I was maybe a little uneasy about coming into this season was this staff's long-term coaching ability, and one good look at the 2008-2009 versions of Luis Colon, Darren Kent, and Fred Brown put that fear to rest ninja-fast. The worst thing to ever happen to the Big 12 was when Dana O'Neil called us a "disappointment" a few weeks back. Frank and the boys appear to have an even bigger chip on their shoulder than they already did, and that's scary for opposing teams. K-State fans need to get behind this team; we could be the difference between an undefeated home season or a couple of disappointing home losses.

I will have more on the conference on Friday in my first Big 12 Outlook feature, but here's the short version. OU and UT are the best teams but not quite playing up to what I had thought. (Arkansas?!) KU is the most unpredictable team in the nation - they can be really, really good, or really, really bad on any given night. Despite the 3 losses, KSU is showing the most day-to-day improvement, in my biased opinion. We're the only team other than Texas that hasn't been blown out by anybody yet. I truly believe we can win every single home game on the schedule, but obviously the most challenging one is this Saturday, so we shall see.

Baylor and MU are highly overrated and will be exposed in league play. A&M and possibly OSU are sleepers, A&M because of their defense and OSU because of their offense. No one else is worth talking about - the bottom of this conference is as weak as I have seen it in a long time. K-State's emphasis on defense makes us a day-in, day-out threat to collect a lot of wins, people, plus we're also actually one of the highest scoring teams in the league (and in school history), but everyone seems to be hedging their bets and low-balling their predictions. I just don't understand it. Pour the Kool-Aid!

3. We have had OU's number the last two years and I see no reason for that to change. I've watched the Sooners a lot this season, and IMO this isn't a great TEAM, it's just 2-3 great PLAYERS and some other pieces that can get hot on any given night, or shoot them right out of a game. Kinda like the 2007-2008 Cats. I'll have much more in-depth analysis of OU tomorrow or Friday, but for now I'll just say that this should be a tight, moderately high-scoring game, kind of like last season. I'll say Cats win, 74-70.

4. I see no reason why not. The North is K-State and the 5 Dwarfs. Well, I guess Iowa State is pretty good too, but this K-State team is playing a whole different level than I have seen out of a Deb team. I was fortunate to watch the Fab Four back in their heyday, when I was actually more of a women's fan than a men's fan since Wecker, Ohlde, Koehn, and Mahoney were much more fun to watch at the time than the product Wooly was trotting out, and I think the 2008-2009 Cats are a better team than any of the 4 those girls played on. Just unbelievable chemistry.

As TB pointed out, the divisional split means they should pick up 10-12 wins pretty easily, but I think the bigger question for this group is: Can they finally break through and make a serious run in the Big Dance? I was in Milwaukee for the Sweet 16 loss to Old Dominion in 2002, and it never once occurred to me that would be as far as they would get over the next 7 years. Crazy.

5. I was the guy who faithfully counted up all of Michael Beasley's points and rebounds and informed opposing fans of where he stood at, oh, virtually every stoppage of play. So I would have loved to see Askia Jones pop off for 62 against Fresno State in the 1994 NIT. I don't know that anyone will ever beat that performance. It remains the 2nd highest postseason scoring total in college basketball history, and his 14 3-point FGs made is also a postseason record. That would have been something to witness in person.

ksubailey:

1.  We can't go anywhere but up!  I've been really impressed by the team Coach Snyder has put together.  We all said from the beginning that Snyder's assistants would make or break his return to the thrown.  It looks good for here, but we'll see what they can do with the players left behind from the Prince Era, and who they bring in themselves.
 
2.  Lately, I've noticed that we come out with guns firing, but we just don't quite know how to go for the jugular.  I also hope we can sustain this nearly lights-out three point shooting streak we've been on lately.  We really need to come out of first two conference games (OU & KU) with a win if we're going to stand a chance this year.  I know KU is supposedly down, but I still believe they are dangerous.  It seems as if most of the buzz has been around OU, but I'm not looking past Texas by any means.  I don't think this is our year for dominance, but we can play with the boy guns in the league if we get out there and play like we can.
 
3.  I predict that the Marching Cobras will be off the chain!  And, that OU will win 82-70, but I love being wrong! ...well, that's a lie in most cases.
 
4.  Oh my goodness, yes!  And I hope they go deep into the NCAA tournament as well.  We just need to dominate the north and let the south beat up on each other and we're good to go.  I might stick around for the Saturday night battle against the Jayhawk.
 
5.  Tradition of Champions was the best Christmas present I got.  I'm sure I'm going to come down with something in the next couple months so I can sit down and watch it start to finish.  I have been jumping around from segment to segment and from what I've seen, it looks amazing.
 
I've always said that if I could travel time, I would want to go to a game in Ahearn.  I was watching them sitting out there in their little tents waiting in line.  That would have been so much fun!  Too bad the cops come and run you off now if you try to camp out.  Funhaters.
 
Also, I loved the pictures from the games in Nichols.  How crazy is that court?

EMAW:

1. Overall, it's easy to see that Snyder wanted to get some guys that have plenty of experience. It's nice to have Offensive and Defensive Coordinators that have actually been coordinators before. Individually, Koenning obviously sticks out as a guy that will hopefully get our defense back on track. I'm intrigued by the Ludwig hire, but my true love on the offensive side is Charlie Dickey. There's a guy that just embodies the term O-Line coach. I think our O-Line was a weak spot during the Prince era, and I hope we get back to having some hog-mollies up front. Besides, with a haircut like that, can he go wrong?
 
2. For the conference, I see K-State being around 4th or 5th. If they play up to their talen level, a second or third place finish isn't out of the question. I just think that a young team like this will have their slips along the way. As a whole, I see Oklahoma as the team to beat. Followed by Texas, though they've shown they can be rattled. I think Mizzou, KU, Baylor and K-State will battle out for those 3-6 spots. KU has lost a lot and is struggling with a young team. Mizzou probably isn't as good as they seem, though they are definitely improved. Meanwhile, Baylor just may show up and shock some people. Hasn't Aaron Bruce graduated yet?
 
3. I hate to predict anything other than a K-State win, but I just don't know yet. I do think it will be a tight game throughout, and the fact it will be played inside a packed Bramlage should heavily benefit the Cats. However, I honestly thin......ahhh, screw it. K-State by 7.
 
4. YES! Deb's girls may be a stronger team than they were last year. As I mentioned here, they have a nice recipe to work with. They have a ton of experience and know what it takes to win in this conference. They don't get rattled and play with a lot of energy and poise. Just like on the men's side, Oklahoma (and Courtney Paris, hasn't she graduated either?) will be the team to beat.
 
5. I would have to say any game in Ahearn against KU. I love looking at pictures and video of the games in the Fieldhouse. I would especially go back to before I was even alive, when Jack Hartman was coaching and Chuckie Williams was playing. Witnessing a Final Four appearance wouldn't be bad either, but I'm a sucker for a stellar atmosphere in Manhattan.

Panjandrum:

I'm broadcasting from an unnamed airport on the East Coast right now, so bear with me if my answers become suddenly brief in preparation for my flight back home...
 
1. What do I think about the staff?  Well, I'll probably be the most critical member of BOTC regarding the hires over the long haul, but for the most part, I've been placated.  I really, really like the Koenning hire.  As BracketCat said, I was all for Patterson/Koenning.  I thought that would have been a pretty dynamic duo.  To me, he was the best free agent on the market in terms of a defensive coordinator, and as TB said, they did a pretty good job of defending the bootleg.  Vic's defenses, per what I've read and seen, tend to be zone based.  So, for those of you who want a return to the true Lynch Mob defenses of the past, I don't think you're going to get them with this guy.  I think it's basically some of the same philosophies that Bob Elliot had here back in '04-'05, but I truly believe Koenning is a better coordinator, so that was an upgrade compared to who was the defensive coordinator when Snyder ended his first stint as head coach.
 
**Note, all comparisions that I make from here on out are going to be compared to Snyder's last staff.  There is no question that this staff, top to bottom, is better than Prince's, so there's no need to even go down the line.
 
One that that I got reamed on the message boards for is my disapproval of the Chris Cosh hire.  It's not that I'm anti-Cosh per se; I think he's a fine linebacker coach.  However, historically, he's been a very, very mediocre defensive coordinator at his previous stops, and I thought that Snyder was throwing him quite a life raft to get out of Maryland.  He was a pretty unpopular defensive coordinator from all I've been able to read, and I think he's definately overvalued as a coordinator here.  There's no need for him to have the title "Co-Defensive Coordinator/Assistant Head Coach".  I don't care how much faith you have in Bill Snyder, that's just odd.  You take an embattled coordinator from an ACC school, who was most likely going to be fired or demoted in a year or so, and you throw two titles at him to bring him back as a glorified position coach?  I just don't get it.  Granted, I'm not as sly as this "Bill Snyder" fellow, but it just doesn't add up.  My ultimate fear is that Vic Koenning spends a year or two in Manhattan, does well, and bolts for a different job, and we promote Cosh as the sole DC.  Given his track record of mediocrity at South Carolina and Maryland in this regard, I think that's a very valid concern.
 
Obviously, Mo stuck around, and Joe Bob came back.  Mo is an institution at this point, so I'm okay with the hire.  He's always seemed to be more comfortable (and productive) when coaching defensive tackles, so the addition of a defensive ends coach will probably pay off in terms of improved line play.  Joe Bob, by all accounts, is a pretty decent position coach, and he's an average recruiter, so he's a solid addition.  The benefit of having him on staff, in my opinion, is that you have a guy who has coached at KU.  So, now we have a guy that was on the inside and can help Snyder prepare against KU.  The playing field has been leveled in that regard.
 
On the offensive side, Andy Ludwig appears to be somewhat of an enigma.  Based on how many of his QB's have made it to the NFL, you have to make the assumption that he's a really good position coach, and in Snyder's program, that's what the OC really needs to be good at because, as we all know, the true offensive coordinator is Snyder.  The OC basically functions like the option in Madden or NCAA Football where the computer suggests a play, and you have the right to accept it or pick something else.  So, I guess what I'm trying to say is that he can't really screw anything up in terms of playcalling because that will ultimately get filtered through Snyder.
 
One thing about Ludwig that kind of concerns me is that he's somewhat reviled at his last two stops.  Even with Utah's great performance against 'Bama offensively, we've heard nothing but 'meh' about Ludwig from Utah and Oregon fans.  For a guy that took it to Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, and coordinated a team that just went 13-0, I'd expect a lot of love.  I just don't get why he's not well liked at his other stops.  I guess we'll find out.
 
Charlie Dickey as the OL coach was a hire that grew on me.  At first, I was hoping Snyder would go after a guy like Eric Wolford at Illinois (Yes, the same Eric Wolford that played here too...), or Troy Morrell, the head coach at Butler County (He has had multiple NC's at Bulter County; that's good to have on the staff.).  But, if you're going to hire the OC from Utah, you might as well bring along the OL coach too.  That makes life more simple.
 
Dave Brock is sticking around, but I don't believe they assigned him a position.  I assume he will still coach the receivers, so that's good news.  I don't think that's anything we've really complained about over the last couple of years, so he's doing a pretty good job.  Solid coach, and a solid recruiter.  You really can't ask for more.
 
Based on Meek's blog this week, we can expect Del Miller to coach a position group as well.  Again, this is another surprising hire.  Sure, he was Snyder's first hire at KSU, but the dude just isn't a recruiter.  Why he's back isn't a mystery, but it's kind of mindboggling when you think about it.  Also, for those of you who will say, "Del is a great coach; we could use him on the staff!"  Well, no shit.  However, the dude is either going to coach tight ends or running backs, and if that's all you're asking a guy to do, he may as well be a dynamic recruiter.  Del is not that.  He's a good postion coach that's dead weight in recruiting.  You can't have that at Kansas State.
 
Jeff Rodgers is a good retention.  No one can argue that the special teams weren't exceptional this year, and he's a Texas boy with a father that runs a recruiting service.  Yeah, you keep that guy around.
 
So, in all, it's an upgrade over Snyder's last staff, but based on some of the rumors and innuendo flying around when the hire was announced, I'll admit that I'm a little deflated by some of these hires.  A couple of good picks, several safe picks, and a couple of guys that make you scratch your head.  That's probably par for the course in the Big 12.
 
2.  I can't disagree with what TB or BracketCat said about the record.  I think ten wins can be had.  The North is way down this year, and I think KSU can beat KU and MU at home, while hopefully sweeping the rest of the awful divisional rivals.  A&M can be beat.  Baylor can be beat (at home), and OU is even up for grabs, in my opinion.  However, I think this team may steal a couple that they shouldn't, lose a couple that they shouldn't, and somehow find a way to claw their way to another twenty win season.  Post season play is definately a possibility, but how many letters are in the tournament of choice is still pretty hard to predict at this point.  We'll know a lot more after these first two conference games.
 
3. As I said, KSU can win this game.  They just have to hit the threes when open and shoot their free throws.  Hopefully, Frank finds a way to scheme Blake Griffin into foul trouble.  If OU has him on the bench for a considerable amount of time, that may give KSU enough of a chance to gain some momentum and get that sell out crowd to a fever pitch.  That's a definate possibility, and I think the chances of that happening are higher than most people probably think.
 
4. I'll be 100% honest; I'm not a women's basketball fan.  That's not a commentary on my feelings toward women or whatever, but I only have so much time to really follow my teams, and they just aren't that high on the list.  Call me a bad fan, bad alumni, or whatever, I just can't get into it.  Trust me, I've tried.  I just can't.  I hope they do well though.  They seem like a great group of women who represent the university with class.
 
5.  KSU vs. the Russian National Team.  That's just such an odd matchup in a time when that game had true meaning.  I really wish I could have been there.

TB: Jesus, just when I think "I just wrote a dissertation," leave it to Panjandrum to come along and write a novel.

ksubailey: I wish we had a DeLorean so we could all go back to Ahearn.  I'd also travel back to yesterday and spell "throne" correctly.

TB: When you get that DeLorean, let me know.  I got shotty.
 
Finished watching the Tradition of Champions DVDs last night, and it dawned on me during one of the segments that Pat Hartman, Jack Hartman's wife/widow, was the very same Mrs. Hartman I knew from working at Manhattan Country Club.  I kind of knew that before, because my boss mentioned it to me one time, but it was one of those things that sort of ended up in one of the dark corners of my memory.  Sweet lady.

Panjandrum: Said Delorean must run on garbage as opposed to uranium.

We need to be eco-friendly.

Or, it can be a hybrid.  Take your pick.

EMAW: Will a hybrid reach the requisite 88 mph? I would hope so. I would also go back to 1988 and slip something into Danny Manning's pre-game meal prior to our bout with KU in the NCAA tournament. Nothing that would do too much harm, maybe just some irritable bowl syndrome type stuff.

Panjandrum: Well, if it's a hybrid Delorean, maybe.  If they tried to turn a Prius into a time machine, I think they wouldn't have much luck hitting 88 miles an hour.  Or getting laid.

TB: Let's not discount the possibility that a hybrid would be a chick magnet in California.  Remember the South Park episode where the smug from the hybrids destroyed San Francisco?  I'm sure there's a latte-sipping, fart-smelling, hybrid-driving woman out there looking for love.

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