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. Check out Part I here in case you missed it, and we hope you’ll join the discussion in the comments. Feel free to bring up questions of your own as well.
Cartier Diarra and James Love III both missed all of last season due to injuries. How much of an impact do you expect the two redshirt freshmen to have if they can stay healthy?
Jon Morse: I really have no sense of what we can expect from Love, but Diarra has given a pretty good indication in the exhibitions that we can expect good things from him. He'll be an important piece off the bench, and may even see spot starts when Weber decides to roll a small five out.
Eric Rubottom: We already can see the impact Diarra is going to have on this team. He can play the 1 to give Stokes a rest, and can play a “1.5” dual setup with Stokes on the floor to give Barry a breather. He generally takes care of the ball pretty well, but we’ll see when the D ramps up against conference foes. Who knows what we’re going to see out of Love - year 2 is starting off much like year 1…in a walking boot. But I’ve heard good things about James, so I’m really interested to see what he looks like on the floor. Diarra is going to have a much larger (and more necessary) impact than Love this year. The name we’re not talking about so far is Amaad Wainright. Brother of Baylor’s Ish Wainright and KC native, Amaad has some of that wily veteran style in him - he’s going to have a major influence off the bench for us.
TB: It's not ideal, because in my opinion the biggest change for players stepping up to college basketball is the length and grind of the regular season. It's almost two months longer than high school basketball and there are more games, not to mention the obvious step up in competition. You'd like to have them get that out of the way last year, but that's not how it worked out. Diarra is one player that's stood out to me in the early going, so here's hoping he's ready for grind.
JT VanGilder: Diarra is going to be a key contributor for this team, and will likely be the first guy off the bench in most games to spell Brown or Stokes. He brings a true second ball-handler to the mix, and that could both calm his teammates nerves while also pushing Stokes just enough to elevate his game. Like I said above, I doubt we see Love before the start of 2018 if ever. Two foot injuries in a row? He hasn't been able to stay healthy enough to make it through preseason practice, I'm not confident he could make it through a season.
Luke Sobba: No clue what Love could give us. I hope someday we'll find out. Diarra's athleticism is intriguing, and I expect he'll need to play 15 minutes or so per game, handle the ball well, and be a pest defending opposing point guards.
Luke Thompson: For reasons everyone else stated, Cartier Diarra clearly looks ready to make the most impact. He could even become one of the league’s better bench players if all goes well. That being said, given KSU’s depth on the perimeter — we’ve barely mentioned Barry Brown, the second-leading scorer and best defender back from last year — I think Love III might actually have the most upside, if he can get healthy. He’s the tallest player on the roster at 6-11 and stood out in high school on the defensive side, something K-State desperately needs inside. The opportunity is there to earn a lot of playing time. I’m just not sure he’s going to be able to take it.
OK, you knew this question was coming. What does Bruce need to do for you to be happy he is Kansas State’s coach at the end of this season?
Jon: Listen, my biggest issue with Weber has never been wins and losses, although I'd really like to see the end-game post-timeout breakdowns come to an end with a quickness. My issue has always been that guys don't seem to progress under him, and that he handles his players poorly. I don't think Weber's press conference game is going to improve any, so what I need to see is the holdovers on this team playing a lot better than they did last year. That would be enough to satisfy me.
Eric: K-State has to make the NCAAs again this year. I know we lost two very important seniors with Iwundu going to the Magic and DJ signing overseas - but everyone loses seniors. It’s not like we were a senior-heavy team. The core behind those two were the guys you see on the floor this year. They have the capability and experience to get there. If K-State misses out on THE tourney, Bruce needs to pack his bags - it’ll be proven at that point he and his staff cannot develop the talent they’re finding. But to answer the exact question: I don’t know if anything he does makes me “happy” that he’s the coach at the end of the year. Having him on the sideline at this point just feels like driving a Toyota Camry…you know what you’re getting, and its nothing special. With all due respect to those that have Toyota Camrys, of course.
TB: Weber's timing is terrible. If he had last year's team in this year's Big 12, he may very well have managed a third- or fourth-place league finish, with a seed in the NCAA somewhere around 5-7. As it is, this profiles as the weakest Big 12 in several years. Weber could build an NCAA bubble team just by finding consistent competence, beating up on a weak non-con schedule, and winning games against down programs. I don't know that I'll ever be truly happy unless Weber lucks into a big recruiting class and builds a team that competes for a Big 12 title again, but (and say it with me again): you can do a lot worse than Bruce Weber.
JT: Bottom line, we need to be in the top-half of the conference at the end of the season and playing on the second (real) day of the NCAA Tournament, with no real head-scratching losses. Squeaking into The Dance in a play-in game just doesn't cut it, and another first-round bounce should bounce Bruce. Bruce is a great person, but I just don't think he's got what it takes to win here consistently. Prove me wrong.
Luke S: Surprise me. With expectations so low, that's not a high bar. Pull a couple of upsets, and be competitive every night. Finish higher than predicted. No more Norman nightmares. Also, talk less, beg less, stop making excuses, and never, ever, ever publicly mention the "play hard" chart again.
Luke Thompson: It’s become more and more clear to me Bruce gets a bit of a bad rap from fans thanks to his ineptitude with the media, plus some unfortunate circumstances for which he admittedly deserves a fair amount of blame after a terrific first year. Still, he’s doing a lot of good things with the rebuild since then, and it might be more if not for a few bad bounces or costly injuries that could be considered just bad luck. Either way, he needs to keep moving forward, which probably means a winning record in the Big 12. That would mean an NCAA tournament berth unless something weird happens, especially since losing more than three games would be terrible with this nonconference schedule.
Where does Kansas State finish in the Big 12 and where will the ‘Cats find themselves on Selection Sunday?
Jon: The problem with the Big 12 is that you can actually be a pretty good basketball team and still finish right where the Big 12 media and coaches predict K-State is going to finish. I think this team is probably capable of holding serve at home. I think they're also perfectly capable of not winning a single game on the road. It's going to be a frustrating season unless everything comes together just right, and we'll be writing lots of articles on whether K-State's got enough resume to get into the dance.
Eric Rubottom: I can say this without hesitation: K-State will not finish first, it’s highly doubtful they finish third or better, and they won’t finish last. Outside of that, the entire Big 12 is so upside down from recent history that it’s hard to predict, so I’ll go out on a limb and say they finish 6th overall in the conference race, with a ~.500 record in conference play. I see us getting out of non-con with likely one loss, probably two; I think they’ll drop one in Vegas over Thanksgiving (yours truly will be BOTC roving reporter for the tournament), and that road game at Vandy is going to be a tough place to play. That puts us at 19-11 for the season before the Big12 tourney…but outside of conference, there’s not a whole lot to show for it. 19-11 and a 6th place finish in a Big 12 that is very atypical leaves us biting our nails on Selection Sunday. Or drinking bleach. Your pick.
TB: My prediction is 11-2 non-con, 10-8 conference, 21-10 overall. Not sure how that shakes out on the bubble, but probably one of the last teams in, or an NIT appearance.
JT: K-State has the talent to push into a top-quarter discussion, maybe 3rd or 4th if the cards fall right. I think 4th-5th is going to be the sweet spot, but if things really go south then 8th-9th is a real possibility (I don't think the Cats will finish last, I think OSU is going to hold that spot). But outside of the top two or three spots, the Big 12 is a big cluster right now (just like with football) that's going to eat itself alive in January and February.
Luke S: I'm terrible at predictions. Once, when I was coaching, I got really worried watching the opposing team warm up. Then we beat them 112-49, and I got assaulted on the way out of the gym. I could see the 'Cats upsetting some of the upper echelon teams, and I could see them losing to anybody. They were picked 8th, and that seems about right. But it makes me a little uncomfortable to be counting on Oklahoma State and Iowa State to finish below K-State. Both of those teams have given us fits in the past few years, especially on the road.
We need to clean up in the non-conference and hold our own in league play, finish above .500 overall, and win a couple of games in the NIT. I'd like to set loftier goals, but there are just too many question marks to expect more. Of course, I want the guys to prove me wrong, then rub my nose in it.
Luke Thompson: Kansas looks like it will be unassailable again and I expect West Virginia to be quite tough as well. Baylor should have another strong team full of talent and athleticism, while five-star point guard Trae Young could easily make Oklahoma a lot better if he adapts to the college game quickly. I don’t see anyone else as clearly superior to Kansas State, and I’d like to remind everyone TCU was a mediocre team on a seven-game losing streak without a single impressive win before the Horned Frogs got hot in Kansas City and rode the wave all the way to an NIT title. Still, with all of Kansas State’s consistency issues, I imagine we’ll see the ‘Cats right around 7th or 8th place and somewhere on the bubble when Selection Sunday arrives.