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K-State Men's Basketball - Season Preview

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We take a look at the men's basketball team before the games actually count.

Wes leads the Cats into battle for 2015-2016.
Wes leads the Cats into battle for 2015-2016.
Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

After what could only be called a tumultuous offseason, the Kansas State men's basketball team takes the court on Friday to take on the Hawks of Maryland-Eastern Shore. Now that we've seen a couple exhibition games through, let's take a look at the upcoming season. We're going to peek into the roster - because, you know, its a bit...different...this year. We're also going to examine this year's schedule. Finally, I'll offer some thoughts on the upcoming season before we take a look at our first opponent later this week.

Roster

Key Departures (aka The Dumpster Fire):

  • Nino Williams - F, Sr. (graduated)
  • Thomas Gipson - F, Sr. (graduated)
  • Marcus Foster - G, So. (dismissed)
  • Tre Harris - G, Fr. (dismissed)
  • Jevon Thomas - G, So. (transferred)
  • Malek Harris - F, Fr. (dismissed)
  • Nigel Johnson - G, So. (transferred)

Returning Players:

  • #14 Justin Edwards - G, Sr. 6-4, 200  Edwards returns for his senior season as one of the anchors of this team, averaging 6.3ppg and 3.3rpg in just over 21 minutes per contest. Edwards is an athletic wing with a streaky shot, passable defense and decent rebounding skills. Justin came into the K-State program after two years at Maine, where he garnered multiple all-conference recognitions in the American East conference.
  • #25 Wesley Iwundu - F, Jr. 6-7, 210  Wes is the face of the team heading into his junior season, leading the way with 5.8ppg, 3.5rpg. He has seen the most playing time of any returning player, averaging 25 minutes per game with 24 starts last season. Wes had a bit of a sophomore slump, where he saw his numbers across the board (except assists) drop slightly from his freshman campaign. Iwundu isn't quite as fleet of foot as Edwards, but runs the floor extremely well, and has done a great job finding points on the weakside of defenses.
  • #50 DJ Johnson - F, RS Jr. 6-9, 250  DJ is coming in off a medical redshirt season after injuring his foot in the NCAA Tournament game versus Kentucky at the end of the 2013-2014 season. DJ is an inside bruiser with a nonstop motor that can run rim to rim; while not a shot blocker, he's a big body that can effectively grab boards and play inside-out on the offensive end of the floor. Curious to see how he will react to real game action after such a long time off.
  • #41 Stephen Hurt - F, Sr. 6-11, 265  The Big Fella looks to finish out his collegiate career with a solid campaign. He comes in averaging 4.2ppg, 2.8rpg in about 13mpg, but will be looked to for 20-25 minutes a game this year. Stephen plays more of a finesse style of basketball, often playing "smaller" than his size. Doesn't rebound as well as a near-seven-footer should (especially with his mass), and blocking shots is not a forte. However, Hurt can step out and hit the 17-foot jumper, and is a legitimate floor stretcher by being able to hit the three. Conditioning could be an issue throughout the season.
  • #33 Brian Rohleder - G, Sr. 6-3, 215  Rohleder was awarded a scholarship for his senior season, after three years of walk-on status. Brian doesn't contribute meaningful minutes on a regular basis, but is definitely that leader and glue guy for the team.
  • #12 Mason Schoen - G, So. 6-1, 185  Mason is the lone returning underclassman, but only saw 10 games his freshman year. Coming out of high school, Schoen joined the team as a walk-on after helping his high school team to a two-year run of 48-2, including a 25-0 senior season where he averaged 93% from the charity stripe.

Notable Additions:

  • #1 Carlbe Ervin II - G, Jr. 6-3, 205  Ervin transferred to K-State from Connors State College, where he earned NJCAA All-American First Team honors, as well as regional Player of the Year accolades. Ervin has average speed and athleticism, but has a style that is more of a stat stuffer. His offense has been predicated on getting to the rim for high-percentage shots, and he supplements with rebounding (5.7rpg) and assists (6.6apg). So far, we've seen Ervin in limited minutes (due to minor injury), but he's a hustle guy that prides himself on defensively stonewalling his opponent.
  • #3 Kamau Stokes - G, Fr. 6-0, 170  Stokes comes in as a Rivals 3-star prospect from Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia. Kamau had scoring outbursts in his high school career, leading his teams to two state titles. Through the two exhibition games, Stokes is serving as our starting point guard, showing above average court vision, an ability to play within himself and not make mistakes, and passable on-ball defense.
  • #5 Barry Brown - G, Fr. 6-3, 195  Barry Brown is another of our seven incoming freshmen this year. Barry is a Rivals 3-star player coming off of a Florida Class 5A All-State first team selection, where he averaged 23 points per game on 50% shooting (40%3PFG). Barry has come off the bench in our two exhibitions, splitting time at the PG and SG spots. Between Ervin, Stokes and Brown, Brown appears to be the best pure shooter of the bunch, and has a decent first step to get into the paint. He's also a solid off-ball defender and can distribute the ball well.
  • #15 Dante Williams - C, Fr. 7-0, 255  Dante - another freshman - comes in as a Rivals 3-star prospect and a top-25 player in the state of Texas. Williams is a defensive-minded player, earning regional Defensive Player of the Year accolades his senior season, averaging 8.7rpg and 3.6bpg. Dante hasn't seen the floor yet due to minor injury.
  • #32 Dean Wade - F, Fr. 6-10, 225  Dean Wade is the most-heralded and anticipated newcomer to this year's squad. Wade is a Rivals 4-star prospect from St. John, Kansas - and has earned a laundry list of recognition, including Gatorade Player of the Year and Mr. Basketball in the state of Kansas and being named to the 30-player 2015 PARADE All-America team. So far this season, Dean has shown flashes of being a standout player, the kind that makes All-Big12 teams as an upperclassman. He's got the ability to stretch the floor to the arc offensively, as well as take larger defenders on the dribble-drive. Without the ball, he finds the open spot in the paint and has moderately soft hands to receive passes. His court vision is above average for a frontcourt player, and has the ability to bring the ball up the floor against some minor pressure. Defensively, he's got some work to do. Right now, he's a step slow against smaller players, and has found himself in foul trouble early in both exhibition games. He knows where to be to defend, but is getting there a touch behind the play. Wade doesn't play as a shot blocker, and needs to work on strength and execution for rebounding.

Rounding Out The Team:

  • #10 Isaiah Maurice - F, Fr. 6-10, 225 Isaiah is a Rivals 3-star prospect from North Carolina that hasn't seen the floor yet. May be sitting out due to eligibility concerns.
  • #13 Zach Winter - G, Jr. 6-3, 210  Winter is a transfer from Hutchinson Community College, playing as a walk-on. Will only see mop-up minutes once real games start.
  • #23 Ron Freeman - G, Fr. 6-5, 185  Freeman is a Rivals 3-star prospect from Los Angeles. An exceptional athlete, Ron has seen limited minutes of action in both exhibition games, but has immediate impact on the stat sheet and a chaotic, redline motor. Will probably see minutes increase as he calms down a bit - right now, he's a mop-up minutes player.
  • #24 Pierson McAtee - F, Fr. 6-6, 190 McAtee is a local walk-on from Manhattan, and will probably redshirt this season.
  • #35 Austin Budke - F, Jr. 6-6, 220  Austin is a walk-on transfer and former teammate of fellow walk-on Zach Winter at Hutch. has seen quite a few minutes through the first two exhibition games, averaging double-figures scoring. However, his strength with the basketball leaves something to be desired, is undersized for his natural position (in the paint), and his body strength is below average compared to other D-I talent. Given that, he has a knack for finding the ball, and can step out to hit the mid-range jumper. Defensively, Austin is a liability right now - not quick enough to handle opponents his size, not big enough to handle opponents in his position.

BigE's Roster Reaction:

We've got a decent nucleus in Wes, Justin, Hurt, and DJ coming back. Wes and Justin are guys that can score, and it is obvious Wes worked on being able to score in one-on-one situations. The Big Fella gives us a stretch option to spread the floor with some size for defense, and DJ should be able to provide a solid anchor down low. However, the entire rest of the team is new to K-State AND new to this level of basketball. From what I've seen, we've got guys that all want to play. They're playing together, and they're coachable. They're actually enjoying the game. There are some solid pieces in place; Wade will be a household name in the Big 12 by the end of his collegiate career, Stokes and Brown will be a completely workable 1-2 guard combo as their careers progress. Dante Williams has the chops to be a diamond-in-the-rough player from what I've watched. With Edwards and Hurt being the only true contributing seniors on the squad, this appears to be a decent group of guys to build on.

Anticipated 10-Deep Depth Chart (bold indicates starters):

PG - Stokes, Brown, Ervin

SG - Edwards, Brown, Ervin, Freeman

SF - Iwundu, Edwards, Budke, Freeman

PF - Wade, Budke, Iwundu, Hurt

F/C - Hurt, Johnson, Williams

Schedule

Non-Conference:

The Cats elected to play two exhibition games - against Emporia State and Fort Hays State - to get things going. We start off at home against a handful of 'meh' teams - Maryland-Eastern Shore, Columbia and South Dakota - before taking on Mizzou as a part of the CBE Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City. Our next opponent will either be Northwestern or North Carolina to wrap up the early-season classic. K-State doesn't have a true road-test until December 4, where they travel to Georgia for a rematch of last year's Big12/SEC tilt. We'll travel to College Station to take on the Aggies, and Ole Miss is coming to the Octagon for our Big12/SEC Challenge matchup in the middle of conference play. We've also got a "home-and-home" set up with Colorado State in Wichita this year, Denver next season.

Big 12 Play:

Any way you slice it, the Big 12 will be an absolute gauntlet this year, with four teams in the Preseason AP Top 25 (#4 Kansas, #7 Iowa State, #8 Oklahoma, #22 Baylor), and West Virginia, Texas and Oklahoma State all receiving votes. Our schedule appears to be relatively even throughout the season - no significant home or road stretches (no more than two straight games), and no brutal stretches of competition. The toughest stretch appears to begin at the back end of January, where we get ISU at home, at Baylor, OSU at home, and at WVU; a brief reprieve with Ole Miss at home, then at KU, OU at home, Baylor at home, and at OSU.

BigE's Schedule Summary:

Circle November 23 on your calendar. When K-State heads to Kansas City to take on Mizzou in the Sprint Center, we'll get our first glimpse at whether or not our guys are ready to compete at this level. Beyond that, key in on December 4 for our first true road game; I'm interested to see how the team handles that type of environment.  Finally, January 2, where West Virginia comes to town. Wes, Justin and crew should be gelling together by that point, and a team like Bob Huggins' Mountaineers squad will be a great measuring stick to see where we're at and if we can hold serve at home.

Oh, and February 20.

KenPom has us ranked at #109 right now, and is predicting a losing season for us. We would make it through the non-conference at 9-3 or 10-2, but the wheels fall off against Big12 competition, amassing a 5-13 record. According to KenPom's rankings, we are the lowest-ranked Big12 team - even TCU is six spots ahead of us. The good news? It's all speculation. With this group, its not that we have a bad track record - it's that we don't have a track record.

The Season Primer (BigE's Thoughts):

  • Enjoy watching these guys. They want to play, and they play hard. This should be a VERY different looking and acting basketball team than what we saw last year.
  • We're young. There will be games we lose that we absolutely should win, and there will be games we win that we have no business being able to compete.
  • I'm looking forward to seeing the growth of these guys. There is a legitimate possibility that things will suddenly click for everyone, and we'll be able to rip off a bunch of good wins in a row.
  • This is not a team built for this year. This year is a season full of scrimmages for the next two. Not that this was the plan, but hey...lemonade.
  • Rebounding is our weakest attribute right now. We are weak at defensive rebounding, and don't have the pure tenacity to be an outstanding offensive rebounding team. This will make or break games for us throughout the season. I'm not worried about scoring - our scoring ability has actually increased with our roster changes. I'm not worried about defense - that's something that comes from playing hard, and our guys are playing hard. I'm. Worried. About. Rebounding. Players are trying to out-athlete their opponent for rebounds - and we're not athletic enough to do that.
  • We ran a matchup zone defense for a bit against Fort Hays State. It was awesome. The new 30s shot clock might encourage more zone defense in the game.
  • We've seen periods of what Wes can do as a player. This year, we get to see if he can bring it for 30 minutes a game.
  • Should be interesting watching the game with the new rules/points of emphasis in place. I actually like what I've seen so far.
  • We'll run some interesting lineups. We've got a small-ball squad with Stokes, Brown, Ervin, Edwards and Iwundu that can get up and down the floor, and all have passable scoring capability. We can also run some big lineups, with two seven-footers on the floor. A versatile group that doesn't have a specific identity yet.
  • Do NOT bring mental baggage in from last year. The team hasn't - you shouldn't as a fan, either.
  • And, with that, the season has officially started. GO CATS!