In five of its last six games, excluding South Dakota, Kansas State has actually given the appearance that it could be a respectable Big 12 team with Will Spradling running the point. It's not something I expected to happen, given the fact that coming into this season I was firmly in the camp that Will was not very useful when he couldn't make jump shots.
He's proved me wrong while shooting worse than 35% from the field (33% from 3) by doing a masterful job taking care of the ball and showing improvement on defense, even though he still has some trouble guarding the ball, especially in transition. Will's remarkable 6.0 assist/turnover ratio (30 assists, 5 turnovers) would lead the Big 12, if only he had enough assists.
That fairly innocuous statistic may be the biggest reason I'm still quite glad K-State won't have to navigate the challenging Big 12 schedule with Spradling at the helm. At least, not if Jevon Thomas is as good as everyone who has seen him says he is.
It's hard to say how much Thomas will play Saturday, if at all, and there's really no reason for me to try to predict that sort of thing. Instead, let's take a look at what exactly Thomas could do, and how he could change the dynamic for K-State on both ends of the floor.
Finding recent video on Thomas isn't easy, but if you put his name in a YouTube search a few videos will pop up. We've also got some of the things Bruce Weber and other Wildcats have said about the 6-foot freshman from Queens.
The most obvious addition with Thomas is more athleticism, which in turn means a greater ability to get into the lane and draw fouls or get closer shots. That's huge for a K-State team that can't hit a jump shot to save its life on some days, and Thomas seems to have a knack for finishing around the basket that is certainly aided by some considerable ups, even if he's no Marcus Foster.
All signs point to Thomas also possessing excellent court vision, so look for him to have success creating shots for others as well. Time will tell how comfortable he is finding teammates within Weber's offense and against longer, more athletic defenses, but I'm cautiously optimistic his extended practice without coaches will make a big difference.
Somewhat surprisingly, Kansas State actually ranks fifth in the Big in assists per game despite not getting much from Spradling and scoring fewer points than every other team, in most cases by a considerable amount. That can probably be attributed to the unselfishness and above-average passing abilities of guys like Shane Southwell and Thomas Gipson, so it's kind of fun to think about the potential for ball movement and real offensive flow if Thomas' skills can be woven into a properly-run motion offense.
I think this will develop in time, but don't be surprised if we see some serious rough patches and a lot of turnovers when K-State faces Oklahoma State and Kansas in two of its first three Big 12 games. Between better players, more emphasis on help defense, and just a faster pace, Thomas is bound to need a few games to adjust to Big 12 basketball.
He probably won't directly to contribute to any significant improvements as far as perimeter shooting, K-State's biggest need. But ideally moving Will to the 2 spot and better passing with more openings for him and Shane Southwell will lead to them shooting more like they did when Angel Rodriguez was the point guard.
Thomas may be capable of creating his own shot and taking some weight off of Foster in situations where that's necessary, but really the most important thing for him offensively will be to make enough wide open jumpers to keep defenses honest. Think Clent Stewart, or Jacob Pullen early in his career.
On the other end, the talk of Thomas as a lock-down defender is extremely encouraging, since the 'Cats don't really have one of those on the perimeter right now. I'd expect him to take a little time to learn how to rotate and help at this level, but as long as he keeps his energy up, the natural athletic gifts seem to be there to make him great.
As much as I'd like to see it at times, don't look for K-State to switch up its defenses a whole lot with Thomas in the game, other than maybe some token fullcourt or halfcourt pressure. If we're lucky, though, his speed and quickness can lead to some more easy points in transition, especially if Thomas and Foster can play off each other when they run.
Finally, I know he's just a freshman, but I'd like to think two cancelled college commitments (St. John's and Dayton) and a year of prep school have given Thomas more maturity and leadership ability than most. That can be absolutely critical for a team to have in its point guard, which may be another reason Spradling has found more success than his pure ability would suggest possible.
Tulane shouldn't offer a whole lot of resistance for the Wildcats and Thomas, who will hopefully get a chance to play just because he's so close to home. Oddly, Conference USA doesn't conduct a preseason basketball poll, but Ken Pomeroy's voting panel picked the Green Wave to finish near the bottom.
They're very good at free throw shooting (72.4%) and not a whole lot else, with a serious rebounding deficiency probably caused by a lack of size outside of 7-foot center Czech center Tomas Bruha and 6-8 forward Payton Henson, neither of whom do much. Tulane gets an extraordinary 75% of its 71 points per game from guards Louis Dabney (19.9), Jonathan Stark (17.6) and Jay Hook (15.9), so K-State had better be prepared to defend the perimeter and help against the dribble-drive.
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