After crushing a conference foe on the road -- a venue in which wins had been non-existent throughout the Bruce Weber era — it’s a good idea to step back and take a look at exactly where things are and collect our thoughts.
So your benevolent despot gathered the BotC staff to pick their brains.
Sorry, where were we?
Your correspondents: AMS, JT VanGilder, Jon Morse, Luke Sobba, Luke Thompson, and Eric Rubottom.
After last night, all K-State needs to do to get to 20 wins is hold home court, and could lose one game at Bramlage if they can pick off another roadie (in Stillwater, perhaps) or beat Georgia in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. Will they get there?
Adam: It's entirely possible they'll get to 20 wins, but the Big 12 is so good this year that I think it will take winning at least a couple of games that we really shouldn't.
JT: Last night's win was great, but that level of success seems unsustainable from this group. I still see three losses at home, without a surprise. Though still have a chance to steal a couple in the road.
Jon: I think so, because I think the Big 12 is bunched enough that every banana peel we slip on at Bramlage can be countered by snagging a road game.
Eric: I think they’ll get there, but not much more. We’ll probably drop one or two at home, and pick up one or two more on the road. Thing is, I’m not seeing anything from anyone that tells me that road games aren’t winnable. KU’s tough because of the 5-on-8 scenario, and WV is always a tough road game due to flying halfway across the country in a raucous arena. I wouldn’t chalk up a road win against anyone else, but I wouldn’t count it out, either. Expectations are still hovering around a .500 team in league play, and the win against ISU didn’t do a lot to move the needle for me there.
Luke S: The most welcome thing about last night was the ultimate ease of victory. And against a Power-5 team, on the road. But I'm not sure it changes my outlook much. Iowa State is rebuilding and had some guys out with injury. Offensively, the 'Cats played pretty near their ceiling, yet it was a game until the middle of the second half. 20 wins seems like a stretch. Possible, but I would not predict it. I suspect we'll drop two or three home games, making the math hard. (Math is always hard, of course.)
Luke T: I don't think they're going to go undefeated at home, but I think reaching .500 in conference play is definitely achievable. Add a win against Georgia in the Big 12-SEC challenge and that would make 21 wins, almost certainly good enough to make the tourney. With the obvious caveat that any long-term injury to one of the top four players could derail things very quickly given the lack of depth, this team appears to have the talent and chemistry to beat just about anyone if things go well. By the same token, though, we've seen things can go very wrong if jump shots aren't falling, and I'd expect that to happen again at some point. So I think we'll see the familiar formula of surprising wins mixed in with frustrating losses, and I think this team has the experience to win 2 or 3 more on the road.
There's been a lot of discussion about Dean Wade's lack of confidence. Do you think he's turned a corner, or was last night's outburst just a step?
Luke T: I didn't get to watch last night's game because work and ESPNU conspired to prevent me from having a chance. From what I've read and heard, though, it seems like he got his points in a very sustainable way rather than just making a lot of tough shots, so that's encouraging. Still, this is the first time all season he's played well offensively against a team with a pulse (See: Arizona State, Vandy, Washington State) so I'm not convinced yet.
Adam: I don't know if it's a matter of confidence or getting into a rhythm or what, and I couldn't hope to guess whether it's "fixed." But we need Dean to play like he did last night more often, and not even for an entire game at a time. If he can just pick the right times to take over a game for 4-8 minutes, he will win us a couple of games we would otherwise lose.
JT: Until Dean puts two or three of those in a row, last night was just a random outburst. We've seen him have those over the years (like against KU) then go two or three where he looks more passive than ever.
Jon: After watching the game on DVR, he sure seemed to be a different Dean Wade. Haven’t seen that much intensity from him. If he can hold onto that, we should see more of this.
Eric: It’s a step, albeit a big (and impressive) one. Let’s not overlook the fact that he went 6-8 from beyond the arc to boost his scoring to that level...which we should not expect night in, night out. A solid performance against WVU on Monday might start to give us the answer we’ve been hoping for.
Luke S: We can hope Dean turned a corner. Sometimes a guy just needs to realize what he can do by actually doing it. It's a long season, and we'll see ups and downs. In the preseason roundup I said Dean needs to be a consistent 15-and-8 guy, without the occasional disappearances. I'd still take that. Of course, if he wants to get angry and put up 34 a night, who am I to stop him?
Do you see any option whatsoever inside, or are we looking at a Three Musketeers scenario here?
Luke S: Mawien was nonexistent last night. He didn't get to play long enough to be "bad." I still have hope that he can be a steady presence, and that Ames was an aberration. I like Levi Stockard's mentality, but he's a little undersized and raw. Love may help because he just so darn big. But we're purely guessing on him. It's going to be a committee; I think we have enough data to know that. But if they can defend, rebound, and clean up some garbage points, that should be good enough. Scoring can come from the three juniors and Xavier.
Luke T: I see potential in Mawien and Stockard to get there eventually, but I'm not sure it happens this season, especially since they don't need to be dominant scorers. They just need to be serviceable. Know when to go to the basket if someone else gets double teamed, make free throws, and maybe score some second-chance baskets every now and then. That's all I ask. It could actually be a benefit to rotate guys so we always have fresh players or a big guy who can play physical and give away some fouls.
Eric: Well, against ISU the five-spot was taken up for 22 minutes total by the combination of Mak, Mawdo and Levi, amassing a whopping 9 fouls (5 on Mak in 5 minutes, 4 on Levi in 15 minutes), 6 rebounds, and that’s about it. We know our post presence is better than that. But we know two things - we aren’t going to get otherworldly performances from our 5’s, and we don’t need to in order to win. Looking at the remainder of the season, the performance of X, Sideshow and Wainright is going to be more supportive than what we get (or don’t) out of the 5.
Adam: If Mawien was going to rise to the occasion to be a legitimate starting center this season, I feel like he would have done so by now. But Sallah hasn't done enough to displace him, either. So I guess it has to be a committee. Rotate Mawien, Sallah, and Stockard and stick with whoever shows up. (And I wouldn't mind seeing more of Shadd. Admittedly he's usually out there in garbage time, but he has one of the best (if not the best) rebounding rate on the team.
JT: Goodness, we're going to have trouble against bigger teams. I have no faith any of the big four will step up this season and take over.
Jon: I’m really not sold on anyone other than Wade, Stokes, Brown, and Sneed. A lot of the other guys have had moments, but when nobody’s even reaching out to grab the open fifth spot on a regular basis, I can’t expect anyone to actually excel there.
How far do you see the squad going now?
Jon: This team’s good enough to make a tournament run if they’re hot, and flawed enough to crash-land out of the NIT if they get cold. That said, it all depends on how things gel during the Big 12 season, which could bring the soup to a boil pretty quickly if they get hot early.
Eric: Nothing has changed based off the ISU game - too small of a sample size, and too much history burned into my mind from earlier games this season. I still think this is a 20-11 team, will finish in the 5-6-7 range in the Big 12, and will be a bubble team come Selection Saturday. The crazy part? Where we’re at in the season, the difference between 21-10 (10-8) and 20-11 (9-9) will be significant come postseason.
Luke S: Still a lower-middle of the conference finish and a bubble team, shading a bit toward the NIT. Prove the internet wiseguy wrong, fellas.
Luke T: As noted above, I think this team can definitely finish at .500 or above and make the NCAA tournament. Hopefully that means getting into the top half of the Big 12. It's tough to see them cracking the top 3 or making the second weekend in March unless Dean becomes a First Team All-Big 12 type player or something else amazing happens, but it's not impossible. If the defense can improve and the 3-point shooting stays consistent it could go a long ways to cover up weaknesses like a short bench and lack of a physical inside presence and great rebounders.
Adam: I think our best-case scenario is somewhere around last year. Maybe a 10 seed in the NCAA and get a first-round upset to the round of 32. But I could also see us folding down the stretch and be hoping for an NIT bid.
JT: I'm still just hoping we can squeak into the tournament again. But this looks like a streaky team that could just as easily end up in the Sweet 16 or losing the first round of the NIT. I'm still not sure what to make of this team.