Always save the best for last, I say.
Why am I profiling our own team? Well, you never know when new readers might stumble across the site.
And we have some readers who are fans of other teams and might not be as familiar with ours.
Also, it seems to be a good time for introspection as we're on the verge of conference play.
This year's version of the Kansas State Wildcats has been somewhat enigmatic and some surprising players have stepped up to fill new roles even as others have disappointed.
Full preview after the jump.
The Story So Far
If you're a regular reader of RPI WATCH, you already know most of this information. I'll recap anyway for those who might not have been paying as close of attention.
K-State is 11-3, with its three losses coming away from home against the only three RPI Top 25 teams it has played: Duke, Florida and UNLV.
That means — according to the numbers, at least — K-State is a good team right now, but not an elite one. That's not to say we can't get there, but there's still improvement required.
The Wildcats have five quality wins: Gonzaga, James Madison, Presbyterian, Virginia Tech and Washington State.
The remaining six wins all are against triple-digit RPI teams, with only one of those coming away from Bramlage Coliseum (Loyola). So it's a mixed bag in non-conference play.
The team is in pretty good shape, but still has some work to do in conference play. Going 9-7 should be sufficient for the NCAA Tournament, and 10-6 would be a lock.
Current Kansas State RPI: 27
Current Kansas State SOS: 33
Denis Clemente (34.7 minutes per game | 16.6 points per game | 4.2 assists per game)
Luis Colon (14.6 minutes per game | 2.9 points per game | 3.8 rebounds per game)
Dominique Sutton (24.0 minutes per game | 7.2 points per game | 5.8 rebounds per game)
- Chris Merriewether (8.2 minutes per game | 0.8 point per game | 1.4 rebounds per game)
#21 Jordan Henriquez-Roberts
11.7 minutes per game | 3.6 points per game | 4.2 rebounds per game
#3 Martavious Irving
19.5 minutes per game | 6.0 points per game | 1.6 rebounds per game
#33 Wally Judge
16.8 minutes per game | 6.8 points per game | 4.6 rebounds per game
FANTASY OWNER: Panjandrum (supplemental)
#24 Curtis Kelly
21.1 minutes per game | 10.3 points per game | 4.0 rebounds per game
#22 Rodney McGruder
28.5 minutes per game | 11.5 points per game | 6.7 rebounds per game
FANTASY OWNER: K. Scott Bailey
#10 Victor Ojeleye
10.9 minutes per game | 2.5 points per game | 2.0 rebounds per game
#0 Jacob Pullen
29.8 minutes per game | 17.2 points per game | 3.9 assists per game
FANTASY OWNER: BracketCat
#12 Nick Russell
12.9 minutes per game | 4.7 points per game | 1.9 rebounds per game
#32 Jamar Samuels
22.4 minutes per game | 10.0 points per game | 6.1 rebounds per game
FANTASY OWNER: BracketCat
#15 Freddy Asprilla
17.1 minutes per game | 5.3 points per game | 5.3 rebounds per game
#4 Juevol Myles
6.8 minutes per game | 2.9 points per game | 0.9 assist per game
#2 Devon Peterson
3.2 minutes per game | 0.8 point per game | 0.3 rebound per game
#31 Alex Potuzak
2.3 minutes per game | 0.3 point per game | 0.5 rebound per game
#1 Shane Southwell
4.6 minutes per game | 0.7 point per game | 1.1 rebounds per game
#55 Will Spradling
21.4 minutes per game | 5.9 points per game | 2.2 assists per game
#11 Nino Williams
6.3 minutes per game | 2.3 points per game | 1.3 rebounds per game
My thanks to the Kansas State sports information department for the photos.
The recently concluded suspension of star guard Jacob Pullen and the still-continuing suspension of preseason All-Big 12 forward Curtis Kelly by the NCAA for impermissible benefits left this K-State team in flux.
As a result, new names and new faces have stepped up into the void to provide scoring, rebounding, defense and, above all, leadership — perhaps none more so than small forward Rodney McGruder.
He is the only Wildcat to start all 15 games. He's second on the team in minutes played, steals, total points and points per game (behind Pullen).
He is one of two players with a shooting percentage better than 50 percent (along with Juevol Myles). Among players who have started at least one game, he's second in 3-point percentage (trailing Will Spradling by .005). And most impressive of all, he leads the team in rebounding.
Yes, "McGruber" is no mere X-factor. He's a bona fide star in the making, as evidenced by ESPN's promo for Saturday's game against Oklahoma State. It's McGruder, newly repaired teeth and all, who was chosen as the face of K-State basketball, not the recently disgraced Pullen.
Nor is he the only such player to step up his game.
Power forward Jamar Samuels has had one of the most consistently productive stretches of his career, providing not just scoring and rebounding in his new role as a starter, but also dishing out assists at and unprecedented level and sparking the team with his energy level on defense.
His wingman has been fellow power forward Wally Judge, a man upon whom some were giving up for good as recently as three weeks ago.
Instead, Frank Martin performed a masterful job of helping the young sophomore to regain his enthusiasm for the game and it has paid off to the tune of averaging a double-double in his last three games — easily the best such streak of his budding career.
Even much maligned guard Nick Russell, who barely played last year and seemed to slip back into the "doghouse" midway through this season, has shown flashes of emerging with his circus shots that nearly got us back into the game against UNLV and his steadily improving play in transition that helped us keep our foot on the gas ever since.
Consistency (he recently snapped a streak of eight consecutive missed 3s) and staying out of foul trouble will continue to be his biggest challenges, however.
Now with Pullen back and showing an even greater focus than ever against Savannah State, and backed by the ever-improving Spradling off the bench, this team appears poised to enter conference play with a bang.
But questions still remain. Reserve guard Martavious Irving has seen his play taper off since the beginning of the season, although he's still as tenacious on defense, in rebounding and while dancing in the tunnel as ever.
Sophomore center Jordan Henriquez-Roberts is in a bit of a funk, having issues catching the ball cleanly and finishing at the rim, but he's still a nightmare for other teams on the defensive end, where he co-leads the team with 17 blocks.
That ties him with Florida International transfer-via-JUCO Freddy Asprilla, who was starting to really shake off the rust before his latest bout with illness left him behind the 8-ball during the holiday break that so often sees teams improve dramatically, absent such distractions as school and fellow students.
How those two improve during the early part of Big 12 play, and how successfully Kelly is reintegrated into the team after a six-game disappearance that followed on the heels of lackluster play, will determine whether this team is a serious challenger for the conference championship, like so many thought before the season began.
Junior forward Victor Ojeleye has been an admirable substitute from a hustle standpoint, even knocking down a few shots and corralling many rebounds, but expect to see his numbers start to dwindle as the games get more important.
Likewise, freshman guard Shane Southwell probably has seen the last of his time as a contributor this season, except in future blowouts. His minutes will improve once Pullen graduates. But Myles and fellow JUCO transfer Devon Peterson are seeing more time lately, and provide a capable "third string" at the two guard positions.
If Alex Potuzak sees the court much from here on out, we'll know it really was a blowout. The gangly freshman walk-on is a crowd favorite and shows some potential for his junior and senior year, but he's likely to enjoy the rest of the season from the bench.
So, too, will freshman wing Nino Williams, who will seek a medical redshirt due to suffering multiple concussions after appearing in only a few games this season.
Projected Big 12 Starting Lineup
|Jacob Pullen||Nick Russell||Rodney McGruder||Wally Judge||Freddy Asprilla|
Projected Top Big 12 Reserves
|Will Spradling||Martavious Irving||Jamar Samuels||Curtis Kelly||Jordan Henriquez|
The Final Verdict
Although Pullen returned to the starting lineup immediately, I expect Kelly to come off the bench for the rest of this season as long as Judge continues his strong play.
And I think Frank likes having Russell out there with McGruder to start the game because of his length, even if it does mean early foul trouble. We have the depth to overcome that.
As good as Samuels has been as a starter (and I expect him to continue in that role until Kelly's return), I still think Frank would prefer to have him coming off the bench and bringing energy with him.
Irving performs a similar role for the guard corps, as does Henriquez-Roberts for the front line. But until Asprilla is grooving again, Samuels will start.
Spradling's brief time as a starter will serve him well in the next three years. But for this year and for this team, I like him off the bench better. It will be crucial for him to continue to grow as a player because other Big 12 teams will attempt to attack his inexperience.
That should be the 10-man rotation for the rest of the season. We'll still see Ojeleye from time to time for the purposes of depth, overcoming foul trouble and setting a "hustle" example, and Myles and Peterson might continue to work their way into the rotation, but I think things are stabilizing pretty well.
This team is deep with scorers, rebounders and tough-nosed defenders. It has found its stride offensively and has been more sound defensively all year than last year's team was.
This team has won on the road and faced some damn tough opponents. A loss to UNLV with two starters suspended is the difference between a top-12 ranking and national respect, and our current disgraced state.
The country quickly will remember why K-State began the season ranked No. 3 if it rips off a 3-0 start in conference play, which I think is likely.
But in the end, a less favorable schedule than KU and the lack of a surefire NBA prospect on the roster probably will conspire to keep this team from reaching its highest goal — a regular-season Big 12 championship. When you play this many sophomores, it's just not realistic unless a lot of things break our way.
Yet the improvement we've seen in the past three weeks should continue, and if it does, there's no reason this team can't finish second again and find itself facing the Jayhawks at Sprint Center in March for a Big 12 Tournament title.
Big 12 preseason prediction: 1st
My predicted finish: 2nd
Best-case scenario: 1st