The football team’s two-game winning streak might have been enough to distract you, but Kansas State basketball starts the regular season
tonight Friday night vs. American at 7 8 p.m. Bruce Weber brings back plenty of experience and some interesting new faces, but whether he’s got enough talent (or other things) to compete in the Big 12 remains up for debate.
In this two-part series, we’ll try to answer some of the biggest questions facing the ‘Cats as they begin a ridiculously easy nonconference slate. Part II will be posted later this afternoon, and we hope you’ll join the discussion in the comments. Feel free to bring up questions of your own as well, and don’t forget to come for Part II to see some thoughts on Bruce Weber plus predictions for the season.
Ever since Jacob Pullen left, my (Luke’s) first question about Kansas State basketball is always the point guard play. The good news is we’ve got a competent point guard with two years of experience, Kamau Stokes, coming back. But clearly he’s had his limitations as a scorer and has never been a dynamic creator off the dribble. Do you see him taking a step forward this year and how would you most like to see him improve?
Jon Morse: He is what he is, and my gut sense is that K-State doesn't really lose games because Stokes has a bad night. (It's much, much more dependent on Wade.) So what I really want to see from Stokes is an ability to recognize which of his teammates is the hot hand, and distribute accordingly.
Eric Rubottom: We know what we have with Kamau - a streaky scorer but can fill it up in a hurry when hot, a great passer, and a relatively solid defender. Stokes won’t ever be that player that will consistently take over a game. Typically, maturation as a PG yields an improvement in consistency on both ends, as well as valuing possession of the ball. We didn’t see much of it in the ESU exhibition, but I would like to see him really step up as a floor general. We don’t need him to score a ton every night, but we need him to run the team.
TB: Other than marginal improvements, I think we know what we have in Kamau Stokes. He's playing the most difficult position on the court, so he's graded on a curve. But he turns the ball over more than you'd like and he's not elite at any specific aspect of the game. We can do a lot worse than Stokes, but he's basically a league-average PG. If there were one area where I'd like to see him improve, it would be in protecting the ball better.
JT VanGilder: I really hope that foray into the NBA draft will help him (instead of the way that NBA-level experience got to Marcus Foster's head), and he can apply what he learned towards this K-State team. Stokes doesn't need to be the leader, that's Brown's job, but we really need him to distribute well and play inside himself: when he's hot he needs to take shots, when he's not he needs to make sure he's getting the ball to his teammates. We need him to be like Clemente to Brown's Pullen.
Luke Sobba: Kamau is a better-than-serviceable point guard who should benefit from some time at the 2. Cartier Diarra looks to be dynamic enough to spell him at times or, better yet, to spell Barry and let Kamau slide over and find gaps along the arc. I like Stokes in the open floor in break situations, and in the Emporia game he showed nice mid-range pull-up ability. I could see him taking a step as an upperclassman. But I've generally been satisfied with his play.
Luke Thompson: It’s possible I just expect too much out of a point guard or place too much value on its importance. Maybe we should just be grateful to have an obvious choice who will allow the offense to function, but I’d like to see a guy more capable of taking command (not necessarily by scoring) and making everyone else around him better. For Kamau, that starts with the ultimately achievable goal of improving his 1.5 assist-to-turnover ratio from a year ago, which ranked 14th in the Big 12.
Everyone knows Dean Wade needs to be the man for this team to be successful. Is he capable of finally consistently playing like the more assertive, borderline NBA prospect coaches say he can be, or is that just a pipe dream?
Jon: I think he can, but one of my biggest criticisms of Bruce Weber is that he's probably not the guy capable of getting Wade there. Again, just a gut sense on my part, but I think Weber's attempts to build Wade's confidence might actually erode it, largely because we can hear so many of them on television...
Eric: I’m going to say it: Dean Wade has the potential to be one of the most underachieving talents K-State has seen, but he also has the potential to be a “K-State Lore” type player. Its entirely between his ears. When he gets the gray matter out of the way, he’s unstoppable. When he thinks, he becomes pretty average. I’m passing on answering this until the Arizona State game in Vegas, where he’ll run into some other pretty talented bigs, including former Kansas player Carlton Bragg. Noteworthy: Dean’s 20/10 night against Emporia State is only his SECOND double-double of his Wildcat career. SECOND. THAT’S IT.
TB: Until I see it happen night in and night out, I'll call it a pipe dream. Wade's personality is not the take-charge type. So far, he's shown it on occasions, but it's really difficult to significantly change who you are and make it stick. It's not impossible, I mean, even I finally grew up a little, but in the space of a college career it's not likely to change much.
JT: Hopefully the offseason let him work on just playing the game. Of course we hoped for that before last season too. Wade has all the potential to be an All-Big 12 player, and really should be fighting with Barry Brown for leading scorer every night. But like Jon said, I'm not sure if Weber is the right coach to get that out of him, no matter how much time he has.
Luke S: Dean has shown flashes, which is what makes him so interesting. It also makes him frustrating. In consecutive games against Iowa State, Tennessee and TCU, Dean scored 2, 3 and 2 points. With his unique combination of size and skill set, that should never happen. Big guys in general can be difficult to motivate. They don't get pushed around as much as kids, and it can be hard to light a fire under them. A big like Wade, from a town as small as Saint John, really doesn't have to fight for much in high school games. Getting a mild-mannered guy to "play angry" is no easy job. But Bruce has to find a way. We need Wade to be a consistent 15-and-8 guy. He has more than enough talent. Cautious optimism is the best I can do, though.
Luke T: The loss of Wes Iwundu leaves a huge hole to fill offensively, so my hope is Dean Wade will see no other choice but to step up and try to do more. Perhaps that could lead to some growing pains, and it might take him some time to find the right balance between being the go-to-guy and trying to do too much. I’m feeling optimistic, so I think he’ll find his confidence and become at worst an All-Big 12 Third Team player this season.
No matter how good Dean Wade is, he’s going to need some help inside, preferably from a big guy willing to bang with the Big 12’s most physical players. Candidates for the job appear to be Makol Mawien, Mawdo Sallah, James Love III and maybe Nigel Shadd or Levi Stockard III if you’re looking for a dark horse. Of those five, who do you expect to earn the most minutes and how will they handle the task of guarding legitimate Big 12 post players?
Jon: I expect it to be Sallah simply because he's got the experience. I'm still deeply concerned about how that's all going to work out. We're going to miss D.J. Johnson a lot, guys.
Eric: Mawdo Sallah looks to be the most ready to fill the 5, coming from Mount St. Mary’s where he averaged 6.1/5.3 a game (MSM made the NCAA tourney last year, losing to Villanova after winning their First Four tilt). I think you’ll see him and Makol Mawien (former Rivals150 player from Utah) trade starts and the bulk of the minutes until/if one separates from the other. I’m really high on Shadd and Stockard, actually. Both of them look to have the body type and raw tools to be successful, but there is a lot of development needed there. Love is an unknown quantity right now, and he’s back in that walking boot after sitting out all 2016-17. We’re going to sorely miss the energy and motor DJ brought to the floor, but I think we’ll actually be OK; Brodziansky from TCU is the only big in the conference that can truly dominate inside. We’re not going to win playing on the blocks, but neither is anyone else.
Tye: I haven't the faintest clue. I remember talking with 2.1 during the offseason, when he noted that our tallest returning player, other than Wade, was 6'4" or something. K-State's track record with bringing in big men who make significant contributions, or at the least aren't a major liability, isn't great. From what I've seen in the exhibition games, nobody particularly stands out.
JT: Love looks like he's out again, and probably won't be back until conference play starts, at least (I predict he's gone at the end of the year). Mawien has looked decent in the exhibitions, and Sallah has D-1 & NCAA Tournament experience. I think you're going to have to lean on those guys this season. Especially Sallah. Nigel Shadd looks like a young D.J. to me, still kind of raw, but lots of potential. Stockard is pretty similar IMO. And our staff has shown decent ability to develop big guys if they can stick it out through a couple growing seasons. We may not get a ton of good minutes out of those guys this season, but if they can stick around then we may be talking a lot about them in a few years.
Luke S: I'm with Jon. D.J. spoiled us, and it's unrealistic to hope any of the current guys will be him this season. The good thing is, there is a big committee to rotate through the position. They need to defend, rebound, and clean up some garbage points. Scoring will have to come from other sources. Because of inexperience, we'll probably guard the post by fouling a lot. So it's a good thing we have numbers to throw at it.
Luke T: This is where the most uncertainty lies, and the reality is there are no good options. As Eric noted, the silver lining is the game has changed and this weakness won’t be as glaring in today’s Big 12. However, I’m terrified K-State is going to get abused on the boards some nights and teams will attack the paint with abandon. Best-case scenario is James Love III finally gets healthy and grows up very quickly, but the most realistic scenario is probably Mawdo Sallah provides an experienced, serviceable presence.
Xavier Sneed is also getting plenty of hype, especially after he went for 18 points and 7 rebounds in the first exhibition against Fort Hays State. What kind of role do you expect him to play for this team in his first year as a full-time starter?
Jon: Sneed, like Wade, is going to be a temperature gauge for the team on a given night. The expectation is that he'll fill the Wesley Iwundu role, although I don't see him necessarily being the secondary rebounder Wes was as he tends to stay outside too much for that. We'll see what he's been working on as the season starts to unfold.
Eric: “X-Factor” also followed up with a very quiet 13/6 against ESU, where he was visibly disappointed with the way he played. My prediction: This version of the Wildcats will see success as X plays - if we can say he “played well”, we’ll probably pick up a W. Keys for him will be to stay out of early foul trouble (picked up two quick against ESU), and simply put, be a badass out there. He’s got a lot of McGruder in his game.
Tye: He looked the part early last year, before he hit a wall (or was playing hurt). On a team that's not going to get much down low, K-State will need as much firepower in the back court as possible. Sneed could very well take a big step forward this year if he's healthy and ready to handle the grind of a full Big 12 season.
JT: Ditto Jon and Eric. Good Sneed is an All-Big 12 caliber player. Bad Sneed creates a hole on the floor that no one else on the team can really fill right now. This team needs Sneed to play at or above "Average Sneed" to be successful.
Luke S: Right now, this looks like a team of guys who would be good role players on a competitive team, but nobody is a star. Want evidence of that? Not one of them was picked for a preseason award--not even an honorable mention. Someone needs to emerge as a consistent go-to guy. Whether one of them can step up and be an all-league caliber performer will probably determine whether we finish in the upper two-thirds of the league, or battle to avoid the bottom. Sneed is as good a bet as Wade, Kamau or Brown to rise up and lead.
Luke T: I love Xavier Sneed’s athleticism and he’s the obvious choice as Kansas State’s most exciting player. The trick will be finding consistency, something that should be easier to do with starter minutes. It will also require better shooting from a slasher who only hit 34 percent of his threes last season. I’d also like to see him become a better defender, as he’s clearly got the tools to become on of the Wildcats’ best on that end.