Ideally, this would be posted more than an hour before the season opener against not-so-mighty Charleston Southern, but I think we're just going to go ahead and blame that on an incredibly compelling football season. Despite that, basketball really is happening tonight (ON A FREAKING CARRIER!), so we figured we should go ahead and post some thoughts on what we can expect to see.
Click on the jump to check out answers from me, Pan, Bracket, and Morse* to all of the questions I deemed important for the 2010-2011 Kansas State Wildcats. As a bit of shameless self-promotion, if you missed it I'd recommend going back to check out my thoughts on why this could be Frank's most challenging season yet.
*After he picked K-State football to win just six games total, three in the Big 12, and named Kansas as the team most likely to upset the Wildcats, TB was not allowed to participate in this year's basketball predictions. I think that's fair.
Which of the newcomers will have the biggest impact? Which of them, if any, will become a mainstay in the starting 5?
AA: I like Thomas Gipson and he could be crucial for depth inside, but I'm having a hard time seeing him surpass JO or Jamar. Meanwhile, as much as I love Shane Southwell defensively, his utter lack of offense makes him a prime candidate to lose his spot on the wing to a more complete player, if Angel Rodriguez or Omari Lawrence can reach their respective ceilings.
Bracket: I think it has to be Thomas Gipson, and he's already showed why. Angel Rodriguez appears to have the potential to be a starter by conference play, but I suspect Frank will elect to keep him coming off the bench in order to reduce the pressure on his shoulders - as long as Martavious Irving performs like he showed Sunday.
Pan: I can see Angel Rodriguez ultimately inching his way into the starting rotation. Granted, what I've seen is limited to the public scrimmage and the exhibition game against Ft. Hays State, but he has a nice shot, he's a solid, aggressive ball-handler, and he's tough on defense. He's kind of the prototypical pit bull kind of guard that Frank likes to have running his show.
But I'm also going to cheat and say that Thomas Gipson is going to get a lot of minutes and be a solid contributor for this team. He was my favorite recruit in this class, and I just absolutely love his style of play. I've longed for a bruiser in the paint for years, and he's exactly what I envisioned in that role.
Morse: This always works out to be a tough question, especially under a guy like Frank Martin. You could be John Wall and end up with no minutes if you make the boss angry. That said, I'd look to Rodriguez and Gipson here.
Which of the returnees, if any, is most likely to make a Rodney McGruder-like leap this season?
AA: I nearly said Will, but I think I'm going to go with JO instead. He had a couple great games last season (ask Missouri and Texas) and really seems to be just a little bit of discipline away from becoming a force inside.
Bracket: Will Spradling is an obvious choice, but I'm going to nominate Jordan Henriquez-Roberts, who I think will be a walking double-double by the time Big 12 games roll around.
Pan: I think Jordan Henriquez is on the verge of becoming an All-Conference level player. I'm interested to see how much his offensive game has developed, but he's going to set the school record for blocks in a single season. Just wait.
Morse: I think it's got to be Spradling, and to a certain extent it had BETTER be Spradling. If Rodney's got to carry the backcourt load, it's going to be a long season.
Is Rodney ready to become a team leader and a First or Second Team All-Big 12 performer?
AA: I really want to believe that Rodney's supposed knee issues were the main reason he spent too much time beyond the three-point line last season, but I'm really not sure he has the slashing ability needed to reach that next level. On the plus side, he seems to have the right attitude, the confidence, and most clearly, the jumping ability.
Bracket: First or second team? Yes. The statistics will be there. But leader? I don't know. They say he's been stepping up, but I just haven't seen it yet. He's going to have to have one of those Jacob Pullen-type performances at some point this season before I start spewing that kind of hyperbole. But he will be a very good player for us.
Pan: I don't think Rodney has a choice other than to become a team leader if we're going to have success. Do I think he's going to play a Pullen-like role and put the team on his shoulders every night? No. But I think he can put up good numbers and demand respect from opposing teams to the point where he may get second-team consideration. What I hope he becomes is a leader by example that brings a solid effort every night. There are some guys on this team with the potential to really do big things on any given night, but Rodney's game lends itself to him becoming our constant.
Morse: Heh, I hope so. I think the chances are good; he was inconsistent last year, but when he was good, he was GOOD. All we can hope for is improvement.
How much progress can we expect from Will Spradling this year and how many minutes per game can he handle at the point?
AA: It was quite amazing to watch Will's transformation last year, as he learned from some embarrassing games and figured out how to handle full-court pressure and even play decent defense against guys that are bigger and quicker than him. I don't think it's unrealistic to think he can give Frank 30 minutes a game at the point if he can stay out of foul trouble and not lose confidence in his jump shot.
Bracket: I'm hoping Irving and Rodrigeuz continue to develop because I'd like to see Will log most of his minutes at the 2, where I think he can be more effective. But I still expect him to handle the rock for at least 10 minutes per game. In addition, I expect about 30 total minutes a game out of him and at least double-figure scoring.
Pan: I think where we'll see Spradling progress is in his aggressiveness and decisiveness. His defense will also be better as well. I think he'll start at the point and play a number of games there, but ultimately, he'll slide over to the two and play a lot of minutes as Rodriguez gains more and more time at the point.
Make no mistake, though. Spradling will be one of the minute leaders on this team. I'd be absolutely shocked if he doesn't end up as one of the top two players on this team in terms of minutes with McGruder.
Morse: There's no question that desire and hard work are NOT Will's problems. It's sort of unfortunate that this means I expect a great deal of progress, and we really need to be getting well over 30 minutes out of him unless Rodriguez or Southwell really step up.
Can JO and JamSam finally find some consistency and stay out of foul trouble?
AA: To me, this is the most important question of the year. These guys have a lot more potential than any of the guards (at least among the returnees) and though I'm a little more skeptical about Jamar after his suspension, I really think they can get there. With apologies to Chad Ford, both have incredible wingspans and length on defense, and if they could just add a consistent 10-15 foot jump shot, they could be almost unstoppable 1-on-1.
Bracket: Yes, but that doesn't mean they will. I think JO will be fine. Who the hell knows what to expect out of Jamar anymore, though? The added bulk should help hom play defense more with his body and less with his hands, but he's got a rep now. Hard to shake that.
Pan: Find consistency? It will probably be better than what it was, but it probably won't be where we'd like it to be. What I hope is that the peaks are higher and the valleys aren't quite as often or prominent. Especially from Jamar.
However, I don't know if I'll ever live in a world where Jamar isn't a foul machine.
Morse: Sure. Will they? I have doubts about Jamar. He's just never quite bought in, I don't think, and he's still got a little bit of a penchant for petulance.
Can this team find its identity in time for a tricky December schedule, or are we in for another rough nonconference season? How many losses will the ‘Cats have before January?
AA: It's nice that there are no games against elite teams (think Duke last season), so every one seems winnable right now. A loss turning quickly into a losing streak is the biggest danger for a team that had such big mood swings last season and brings on a lot of newcomers, but I think they'll get through with just 3 losses and a decent win somewhere, hopefully against Huggie Bear.
Bracket: Yes. This schedule sets up perfectly. We get to find who we are in November, begin to test ourselves with increasingly harder games in December (West Virginia is better than Virginia Tech, Alabama is better than WVU, and Xavier might be better than all of them), possibly win our first holiday tournament in five years - a goal I'd really like to see us accomplish; we have the necessary pieces - and then catch a breather against Howard before segueing into conference play.
Pan: I think the identity of this team is there. They're going to chuck up a bunch of threes and rebound like crazy. It's going to be the kind of Frankball we were used to before last year. I think this team has better shooters, overall, than we've had in the past, and I think we've got really solid rebounders at every position. I personally think this team is going to surprise a lot of people this year. When you have guys like Will and Rodney leading a charge with a bunch of high ceiling guys with consistency issues (JHR, Samuels, Rodriguez) and solid role players like Irving and Gipson, etc., I think you have a recipe for success. Will they have a start like they did back in 09-10? Probably not. But I think they'll hold their own against VT, WVU, Bama, and Clemson. Heck, they may beat them all. Who knows?
Morse: Hopefully none, right? I think 8-2 is probably more rational, and by this time next week I may very well want to downgrade that prediction even if we win the opening pair.
Which player is most likely to leave the team mid-season and why?
AA: I hate that I had to ask this question, but after last season, I couldn't leave it out. I'm going with James Watson, just because he's a failed McDonald All-America nominee coming to Manhattan via Washington State then a junior college and there just isn't a lot of room for him down low if Samuels, JO, and Gipson play to their potential.
Bracket: Right now, I don't really see a threat to so do. Last year was an aberration. Most Frank defections occur in the offseason. I'm hoping we rooted out all the chemistry cancers and have that crap figured out now.
Pan: I'm going with James Watson for the simple fact that he had trouble passing a conditioning test. Nothing more than that, though.
Morse: Well, I figure if it's anyone, it will be Samuels. Nobody else even appears to be a candidate for that "honor".
Where does K-State finish in the Big 12 and how far does this team go in the postseason? Please specify NIT or NCAA. Any answers below that will not be accepted on this blog.
AA: I think Frank will be able to bring these guys together and effectively use his depth for a decent conference season, leading to a 4th or 5th place finish in the loaded Big 12, which probably means 6 or 7 losses. That'll get an NCAA tourney bid, but the lack of elite talent will be exposed and the ‘Cats will leave early.
Bracket: No worse than 11-7 and in at least fourth place. F*** the preseason poll. It already looks stupid due to injuries, suspensions and coaching health problems. 11-7 is our usual 10-6, plus one win and one loss, but that's a conservative prediction from me. I think we can log our first 12-win season and I truly think we can win this conference, although I won't predict it outright. Too many variables still have to fall into place. But Missouri is overrated, Texas is a total rebuild job, Iowa State is a complete enigma and KU has no depth. Oh, and Baylor is still coached by Scott Drew. aTm scares me more than anyone and we don't play them until February. As for the last part of the question, I consider us an NCAA lock until we prove otherwise. Our depth and the way Frank scheduled have me feeling totally confident.
I'm not going to predict an overall finish order in the conference, but I've got a bet at work with a guy that we'll finish in the Top 4 again. I feel really comfortable about that.
Pan: I also feel very confident that this is an NCAA tournament team. There may not be any stars, but there are a lot of good players on this team that fit exactly what Frank likes to do, and they'll prove by the end of this season that for this year's team, the sum is greater than the parts.
Morse: For the first time since the Huggins year, I really don't even have a feel for that question. I'd say we're probably going to finish fifth or sixth, and be one of the last four into the NCAA tournament. The season won't be a failure, especially considering what we lost last year, but it's going to be a growing year for our guards combined with what I perceive as a shaky front court.