I didn't get a chance to watch Kansas State's win against Texas Southern earlier this week, but from this blog and other places I got the impression that Rodney McGruder's 26 points came not because he had a breakthrough, but because he had a completely unfair size and athleticism advantage. Still, I held out hope that he had at least made a couple of wide open threes, because no matter who you're playing, a three-pointer is still a three-pointer when you're trying to break out of a slump.
Obviously, I was sorely disappointed. Our unanimous First Team All-Big 12 guard missed his only three-point attempt and is now shooting 22.6% for the season. Even after a 12-for-17 night, his field goal percentage is still just 42.2%. Let that sink in for a moment.
That simply can't happen and will lead to disaster in Big 12 play for this team, no matter how down the conference is. This is a guy who was a career 44.7% shooter before this season, shot 46.3% last year despite some early slumping, and made 40% of his threes in his first three seasons.
He's taken 38 more shots than any other Wildcat this season, which is actually fine because he's shooting a higher percentage than every other guard, unless you count Shane Southwell. Which I don't. It's obvious something has to change, and it would make me feel better to blame someone, so let's start there.
I don't think anyone is going to question Rod's effort, so let's rule that out. The Bruce Weber offense has been pretty terrible, or as Matt Giles of Deadspin aptly put it "(John Groce's offense) is to Bruce Weber's offense what the Apollo space program was to the Wright Brothers."*
*By the way, Illinois' continued success may be just as damning or even more so for Bruce than his own team's well-documented issues. The Illini are 12-0 with essentially the same lineup minus talented center Meyers Leonard, and Brandon Paul has transformed from a solid but inefficient leader into one of the best guards in the country, or basically the opposite of what McGruder has done.
At this point, I like to imagine Bruce Weber openly cheering against Illinois every time they take the floor. The more that team wins, the worse he (and by extension John Currie, one would hope) look.
Still, that's not the only problem. McGruder did miraculously get some good screens and open looks in the second half against Gonzaga, but the shots still would not fall. He continues to shoot the running jumpers that would drop in seemingly every time last season, and somehow they keep missing.
I hesitate to even suggest McGruder's confidence could be shaken enough to have a significant effect, since he's a senior who has been so rock solid throughout his career. But he has looked at times to be rushing his shot and worrying about the defense, which is something you absolutely cannot do too much of as a shooter.
It may be worth remembering that early in his career this was one of those guys who would only take the wide open shots, even though he shot a very high percentage and we all wanted him to shoot more. Last year he seemed to successfully embrace the leadership role and realize he could make the more difficult looks, but I can't help but wonder if somehow part of that has left him, though I refuse to believe he can't get it back.
Whatever the issue is, McGruder has only made more than one 3 once this year (when he went 3-6 against George Washington) and only shot better than 50 percent from the field twice. Against 3-8 North Florida and 1-10 Texas Southern. I repeat: This is a major problem.
From what I've seen this season, which is unfortunately only four to five games, Angel Rodriguez is clearly our best player. McGruder is still his usual self and a well above-average defender and rebounder, but if this team is going to have any kind of success, he has to be a much more efficient scorer.
A breakout game against Florida would be fantastic, and it's just about the only way I see of beating this team. I assumed out of habit that the Gators are reliant on the three and could possibly be beaten with KSU's excellent perimeter defense and a (hopefully) hostile atmosphere at the Sprint Center.
But after watching Florida (before their end-of-game collapse) at Arizona and having a look at the season stats, I'm not so sure. This is a very good basketball team, and I have a feeling we're going to wish they had won that game in Tucson and were still undefeated.
Make no mistake, they can make a lot of threes (nearly 8 per game and 10-18 at Arizona) and are very dangerous on the perimeter. But Mike Rosario and especially Kenny Boynton can get to the rim as well and it's hard to find any guard in the rotation who couldn't routinely abuse Will Spradling in a one-on-one situation if he so chose.
Unlike Kansas State, Florida also has a couple big guys who can score in Erik Murphy and Patric Young, both of whom are averaging double figures and shoot better than 54% from the field. We have one (ONE!) post player shooting better than 48% from the field, and D.J. Johnson averages 4.4 points per game as a solid role player, at best. But that's another post for when I'm not so angry about it. /glaresatJO
Oh, and did I mention Florida has the third-best scoring defense in the country at just 50.4 points per game? That didn't come against as many cupcakes as you might expect, either, though I have to say the 56 points allowed against Wisconsin makes me a bit skeptical. Mostly because I hate the Bo Ryan's offensive scheme with the deepest of passions.
Needless to say, I'm pretty concerned about this game, and if it's close in the final ten minutes, I'll be impressed. The last time K-State played Florida (in 2010) it was probably the ugliest game between two top 25 teams I have ever watched, and that's about what will have to happen again for KSU to have any chance tonight, I'm afraid.