The immediate future doesn't look so bright for Kansas State basketball, with a tough game against Iowa State looming Thursday and a lot of valid questions about this team's ability to make any kind of NCAA tournament run. One win in the Big Dance would be nice, and anything beyond that would probably have to be considered a huge upset.
From a long-term perspective, though, that's pretty solid for a rebuilding year....as long as it comes with the promise of bigger and better things. We've hinted at this all year in podcasts, comments and other analysis, but I'm here to give you a full, in-depth look at why the foundation is in place for significant success.
Not much needs to be said at this point about the talent and potential of Marcus Foster, Wesley Iwundu, Jevon Thomas and Nigel Johnson, all of whom appear most likely to be four-year players, barring transfer. The class of 2014 probably won't be quite as strong but it should certainly address K-State's needs and provide more than adequate replacements for departing seniors Omari Lawrence, Will Spradling and Shane Southwell.
It became clear against teams like Texas, Kansas and Baylor that Thomas Gipson could use some help inside, and that's what 6-10, 275-pound junior college transfer Stephen Hurt can offer. He's a hardworking big man who may need some time to adjust to playing against the long, athletic big men of the Big 12, but should be a valuable asset.
He'll come in as a fairly well-proven commodity after posting 8.2 points per game and shooting better than 50 percent from the field while playing only 15 minutes per game this season at Northwest Florida State College. More impressively, he earned Atlantic Sun Freshman of the Year Honors by averaging 11.5 points and 7.2 rebounds for Lipscomb.
The 6-10, 275-pound power forward isn't your traditional big man and can definitely play well away from the basket, as seen in this highlight video that could really use some editing. I was in attendance at a Lipscomb game when he did just about everything and scored 23 points to go along with 18 rebounds in a win over Austin Peay, the game after he posted a double-double against Kentucky.
He's worked hard to extend his shot out to 3-point range and hit 8-of-18 this season. Look for him to fit in well with the pick-and-roll offense at K-State and allow the 'Cats to keep some of the versatility that worked so well when the Paradox brought his ‘A' game, but with a bigger body.
It's clear from the 2014 class and targets for 2015 that coaches are expecting Thomas and Johnson to run the point for Kansas State the next two years. But if they need some help, it could come from 6-5 combo guard Tre Harris.
He went to prep school for a year to improve his game after not getting a lot of attention out of high school, but hopefully he'll offer a much-needed 3-point threat in the backcourt. You can see some of his athleticism and shooting ability in this highlight video set to very ominous music, but it could be tough for him to find time the next couple seasons in a loaded backcourt.
Those two appear to be the only significant guys coming in next season, unless Kansas State somehow manages to beat out Indiana, Michigan State and others in getting three-star forward Marvin Clark of Wichita. Oh, and there's also walk-on Evan Beucler from Highland Park, who you can watch go through a bunch of drills in this awkward recruiting video.
Of course, the two players who may have the most potential to make a big impact in their first game as Wildcats are already on campus. The careers of center Brandon Bolden and shooting guard Justin Edwards have taken nearly opposite trajectories since high school, but both seem capable of contributing.
Edwards went to Maine and averaged 16.7 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.9 steals per game to earn America East Player of the Year honors as a sophomore before deciding to transfer in order to face better competition. I'm not saying he'll be the next DeAndre Kane, but he's clearly eager to prove himself capable of putting up similar numbers in the Big 12 over the next two seasons.
He comes from Canada, which may be part of the reason he ended up going to a smaller school like Maine in the first place. Another wing scorer capable of driving to the basket alongside Foster on the wing would be a very good thing.
The biggest wildcard has to be 6-11, 210-pound Georgetown transfer Brandon Bolden. Even though he was rated as the No. 81 player overall and No. 14 center by Rivals.com, past experience with Jason Bennett and Wally Judge (possibly throw Freddy Asprilla in there as well) should remind us that doesn't translate to automatic success, especially with big men.
It's not exactly encouraging that Bolden did basically nothing in very limited time as a freshman at Georgetown, though part of that may have been playing behind Otto Porter, the 3rd pick in the 2013 NBA draft. Ideally, Bolden will provide some athleticism and much-needed shot-blocking ability to go with some decent offense inside and it's at least encouraging K-State beat out Fred Hoiberg and Iowa State, a team with a great record of finding quality transfers.
Overall, it would be ambitious to think this group that will suddenly turn Kansas State into a Big 12 favorite, much less a Final Four contender. The Wildcats probably need to land at least one of the four-star recruits they've offered from the class of 2015 to have any chance of that happening.
But provided a point guard can step up, K-State could do well with a backcourt of Thomas, Foster, Edwards and Iwundu combined with a frontcourt of Gipson, Hurt and Bolden (not to mention the improving D.J. Johnson). That should be good enough to finish near the top of the league and become a mainstay in the top 25, putting to rest any belief that Weber can't recruit well enough to be successful in the Big 12.