With Kansas State’s football season and future hanging in the balance, some of us hardwood-focused few turn our attention to the
upcoming imminent 2018-19 season upon us.
Back in August, who out there would have thought we’d so quickly find ourselves lamenting the state of football, but pretty freakin’ jazzed about basketball?
Put your hand down.
Alas, that’s where we are. With the season starting off with a home exhibition against Pitt State on Friday evening, let’s take a few moments to examine this year’s squad...maybe to help inform that former discussion with Luke Sobba about a scary little word...expectations.
We’re gonna do this in an orderly fashion, so here’s the plan: We’ll start by talking about the team as a whole, and some of those expectations. Then we’ll take a little deeper look at the personnel on an individual basis, and finish up with a waltz through the season schedule and some things to look for.
Ladies and Gentlemen: Your 2018-29 K-State Wildcats
Kansas State begins their season as a consensus Top-25 basketball team:
- AP Poll: 12th
- USA Today Coaches Poll: 11th
- Kenpom: 12th
- SportingNews: 13th
- Athlon Sports: 11th
- NBCSports: 11th
- Andy Katz Power Rankings: 10th
- Jeff Goodman: 12th
- ESPN Power Rankings: 15th
...you get the point. Across the board, people that know college basketball, and some that don’t, feel the Wildcats are in the 10-15 range.
In the Big 12 specifically, #EMAW faithful will be somewhat happy to know the coaches have tabbed the Wildcats preseason #2 behind KU, including two first-place votes, with the Jayhawks’
bagman helmsman Bill Self not being able to pick his own team, and OSU’s head coach Mike Boynton offering K-State his first-place selection.
But why? This is a team that is coming off of a 25-12 season, finishing 10-8 (4th) in Big 12 play, losing games to an Arizona State team that started 12-0 but finished 8-12 in a pretty weak PAC-12 from that point forward, and inexplicably got handled by a Tulsa team at a “semi-home” (ed. neutral at best) game in Wichita. Got pummeled by WVU to the tune of 30-some-odd points. It’s also a team that showed they couldn’t rebound against 5 oompa loompas (340th of 353 Division I teams), played a dreadful non-con slate (324th non-con SOS), and didn’t exactly show a propensity for consistency from night to night.
A rebuttal: K-State is returning the highest percentage of scoring of any Division I team, at 93.2%. Pure scoring averages need to be thrown out the window (71.1ppg, 248th in 2017-18), as the Wildcats’ Adjusted Defense (21st per Kenpom) and Adjusted Tempo (302nd) show that you’re just not gonna have a lot of points scored in a K-State game. Kenpom further projects these values into 2018-19, and sure enough - you end up with a really slow tempo (projected 310th), but a top-10 adjusted defense and a top-25 adjusted offense lands this team right...at...12th.
Further rebuttal: K-State’s 12 losses last year: ASU (neutral/basically road), Tulsa (semi-home/basically neutral), #6 West Virginia (home), #18 Texas Tech (road), #12 Kansas (road), #7 KU (home), #15 WVU (road), #7 TTU (home), Oklahoma (road), TCU (road), #9 KU (Big12), Loyola Chicago (NCAA Elite 8). For me, the most concerning loss in this bunch is the game against Tulsa, and it was back in early December.
Even more rebuttal: Yes, the Wildcats benefitted from the historical upset of #1 seed Virginia by UMBC. They still had to take out a higher-seeded Creighton with former K-State phenom Marcus Foster (who Barry shut.the.****.down, by the way). They also took down a #5 seed Kentucky - this year’s preseason AP/USA Today Coaches #2 - in the third round, before finally bowing out to God’s favored sons from Loyola Chicago. Without Dean Wade.
Looking for a little more solid data? K-State recently took on the Oregon Ducks in a closed-to-public scrimmage in Denver. Oregon is currently ranked preseason 14 (AP) / 16 (USAT). The Wildcats handled their business, holding the lead for most of the contest and opening up a 20 point spread with 3:41 to go in the second, while outrebounding the Ducks 40-33. Reading from a box score, this was a drubbing for most of the game, never mind the 75-70 final score (bench/subs/cleanup time and all).
Add all this up, carry the 2, differentiate with respect to x...and yep, 12th sounds about right. But its up to these guys to make it happen:
Roster - Projected Starters
#3 Kamau Stokes (G, Sr)
Kamau Stokes returns to us healthy for his senior year, with that young’n Cartier Diarra nipping at his heels for the starting 1-guard spot. While streaky, Kam’s probably the best shooting guard on the team, and will be looking to shoulder the offense-initiation duties, pick up some of the scoring load, and hound the opposition’s point guard.
#5 Barry Brown (G, Sr)
- 2018-19 Preseason All-Big 12 First Team
- 2018-19 Jerry West Award Watch List (Shooting Guard of the Year)
- 2018 NCAA South Regional All-Tournament Team
- 2018 All-Big 12 Second Team
- 2018 Big 12 All-Defensive Team
- 2018 US Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) All-District VI First Team
What can Brown do for you? Barry Brown, Jr. returns for his senior season after declaring for (then backing out of) the 2018 NBA Draft. One of the best defensive players in the country, we witnessed Barry through his junior campaign for the Wildcats emerge as the team’s on-court captain. As the season wore on, he showed a growing consistency and capability to both score from outside as well as get to the bucket and finish through contact. Hence the Preseason First Team accolades. Expect Brown to defend the opposition’s best guard straight-up, regardless of position.
#20 Xavier Sneed (F, Jr)
- 2018 NCAA South Regional All-Tournament Team
- 2018 Academic All-Big 12 Second Team
Not just a play on his name, Xavier Sneed is truly this team’s “X-factor”. He’s shown off elite athleticism and a tremendous upside, and as a sophomore last season, we also saw a growth in consistency from night to night, especially late in the season and into the NCAA Tournament. A bit of a “other” when compared to K-State’s Big 3, X has the tools to be the #2 scorer on the team every night...and some nights, we’re probably gonna need it. Reading the team and being assertive on an off night from the seniors will be key. This is Sneed’s team in 2019-20.
#32 Dean Wade (F, Sr)
- 2018-19 Preseason Big 12 Player of the Year
- 2018-19 Preseason All-Big 12 First Team (unanimous selection)
- 2018-19 Karl Malone Award Watch List (Power Forward of the Year)
- 2018 All-Big 12 First Team (Coaches)
- 2018 All-Big 12 Second Team (AP)
- 2018 USBWA All-District VI First Team
We know what we got here. Senior, preseason PotY accolades, a catchy nickname...time for Dean Wolf to go out and leave no doubt he’s one of the best in the country. He’s climbing up the K-State leaderboards into some serious rarefied air - go read his bio on the official team website for more.
#14 Makol Mawien (F, Jr)
- 2018 Big 12 Championship All-Tournament Team
Makol Mawien rode into the tail-end of his sophomore year on a high note, picking up all-tourney team accolades in the Big 12 tourney from a two-game bender where he averaged 22.5ppg, 6.5rpg, and 2.5bpg against TCU and Kansas. One of three players on the team that played in and started every game (Brown, Sneed), he’s got the skill, but has been foul-prone to see much more action than his 20mpg alludes to. Hopefully off-season work on footwork in the gym and the weight room sees improved rebounding and fewer fouls in his junior season.
|#2 Cartier Diarra (G, R-So)||7.1||2.5||2.0||46.9||40.5||72.3||0.5||0.1||23.8|
|#00 Mike McGuirl (G, So)||3.3||1.5||0.9||33.3||23.8||75.0||0.3||0.1||12.5|
|#34 Levi Stockard (F, So)||1.8||1.7||0.1||52.0||0.0||63.6||0.1||0.1||8.6|
|#45 Nigel Shadd (F, R-Fr)||1.1||2.0||0.0||37.5||0.0||75.0||0.0||0.0||6.3|
|#24 Pierson McAtee (F, Jr)||0.8||0.2||0.1||50.0||66.7||100.0||0.0||0.0||2.0|
|#21 James Love III (F, R-So)||0.7||0.4||0.0||44.4||0.0||40.0||0.1||0.3||4.6|
- Amaad Wainright (13.1mpg, 2.8ppg)
- Brian Patrick (7.8mpg, 1.6ppg)
- Mawdo Sallah (7.7mpg, 1.8ppg)
- #1 Shaun Neal-Williams (G, Fr) - 6-1, 170-pound guard from Florissant, Missouri. Three-star prospect. Missouri Basketball Coaches Assn Class 5A All-State Team as junior and senior in high school. Averaged 16.7ppg on 46.3% / 36.2% / 76.6% (FG/3P/FT); 5.4rpg, 4.8apg, 2.2spg. Smooth athlete, good passer, good mechanics on jumper.
- #23 Austin Trice (F, Jr) - 6-7, 235-pound forward out of Chicago. Attended Wabash Valley College sophomore campaign, and Moberly Area Community College as a freshman. Comes into K-State as the best juco power forward and #5 juco prospect overall per 247Sports. Reminds me of a David Hoskins, with 3 more inches of height. If he rebounds well, he can have an immediate impact.
Expected Depth Charts
Before we go any further...it’s exceptionally difficult to accurately predict K-State’s depth chart because of the ability to utilize a two-guard or three-guard lineup. Nonetheless, we’re gonna take a stab at it, realizing it’s probably a fool’s errand.
Here we go:
|Kamau Stokes||Barry Brown||Xavier Sneed||Dean Wade||Makol Mawien|
|Cartier Diarra||**Cartier Diarra**||Austin Trice||**Austin Trice**||Levi Stockard|
|Shaun Neal-Williams||Mike McGuirl||Pierson McAtee||Nigel Shadd|
|**Mike McGuirl**||**Shaun Neal-Williams**||Patrick Muldoon||James Love|
|Kamau Stokes||Barry Brown||Cartier Diarra||Xavier Sneed||Dean Wade|
|Mike McGuirl||**Mike McGuirl**||**Mike McGuirl**||Austin Trice||Makol Mawien|
|Shaun Neal-Williams||**Shaun Neal-Williams**||**Shaun Neal-Williams**||Pierson McAtee||Levi Stockard|
|Patrick Muldoon||Nigel Shadd|
The asterisks indicate players that kinda sorta fit into all these spots, just to illustrate how flexible this team is when it comes to five-on-the-floor. For instance, in the three-guard lineup, Kam, Barry, and CD are your obvious top three, then McGuirl would be 4, and Williams would be 5. Or something like that.
Poking, Prodding, and Pondering
- Dean “Wolf” Wade turned a corner last year, going from showing flashes of being the dude to full-fledged being the dude, until injury derailed his tournament season. Probably snubbed on his exclusion from any preseason All-American lists, but the Big 12 coaches know what’s up. Wade’s gotta stay healthy and hungry every night for this team to hit its ceiling.
- Barry Brown needs to flex them biceps. Dean’s the player with the most future (read: NBA) upside of this squad, but Barry’s got the shoulders and the attitude to really drive this team, with some NBA possibility. Look for an improved outside shot (only 32% from three last season).
- This team has a lot of players looking to share minutes in the 1 and 2 spots, and I’m willing to bet we we a TON of three-guard lineups. Kam and Barry are the likely starting 1- and 2-guards, but Diarra has proven in Kam’s absence that he belongs in that conversation. Throw an improved Mike McGuirl into the mix, and a Shaun Neal-Williams that looks ready to earn time on the floor...it’s not a bad problem, but a problem nonetheless that will need to be managed appropriately.
- The 5-spot is still going to be the weakest point on the floor, though word is Mak has made some notable strides. He learned he can play at this level effectively through the Big 12 tourney last year, but has he learned to play without fouling? Has Stockard, Shadd, or James Love made any step forward? Trice looks like an energetic, athletic fella, but will he be able to transition into Big 12, or Power 5 basketball?
- Expect more of the same from last year when it comes to game plan and philosophy. Defensively, solid man-to-man defense with overplaying passing lanes and situational guard-switching should continue to be a staple. On the offensive end, we’ll probably see that same motion offense focusing on flex cuts and the ability of Dean Wade really softening up the interior for dribble drives. K-State won’t be an uptempo team by any stretch of the imagination, but we should see a little more deliberate pushing the ball up the floor off of makes than last year, and continuing to take advantage of opponent turnovers.
- Everything’s shaping up to have a solid rotation through 10 deep, if Williams and Trice can contribute right away. Judging from what I’ve seen (albeit limited), they’ll be able to.
As usual, K-State has their typical list of patsies to warm up against throughout the non-conference slate, however - we’ve got a few more quality matchups to look forward to than normal.
The Wildcats are taking part in the Paradise Jam this season, a holiday tournament based in the US Virgin Islands (November 16-19). K-State should clearly be the best team in the event, but a potential second-day matchup against Northern Iowa, followed with a championship round against a top-50 Mizzou team (Monday, November 19) could be in the cards.
Put this one on your calendar, kids: a road trip to Milwaukee (Saturday, December 1) to take on the Marquette Golden Eagles. In the preseason polls, Marquette is slotting in just outside the top-25, so this will be a true road game and a tough test for this experienced group. Junior guard Markus Howard is a mighty-mite of a basketball player, listed at 5-11 but putting up over 20ppg last season while shooting better than 40% from beyond the arc.
We follow that one up a week later (Saturday, December 8) with another true road trip to Tulsa to avenge last year’s loss to the Golden Hurricane. Side note: How did we end up with a neutral site game and a true road game against a team like Tulsa? Who in their right mind, scheduling for a legitimate major-conference program, agrees to that?
If you’re within (reasonable) driving distance of Manhattan, go to the Georgia State game on Saturday, December 15. Donate a new unwrapped toy at the game for children less fortunate out there, and get a ticket for $5. Make a kid’s Christmas positive, and watch your Cats win a basketball game. Win-win.
Then we’re on to conference play. Same deal - 18 games, you got everyone at home, and everyone on the road. The Big 12 is yet again a hell of a gauntlet, with 8 of the 10 teams in the league in the top-40 according to Kenpom’s projections, and 6 of the 10 receiving preseason votes in the AP poll. The same conference that put 70% of the league in the field of 68 last season.
Overall, the conference slate looks pretty balanced. Rematches are pretty well split apart, and it’s tough to really see a brutal stretch anywhere in the season. The worst is probably a 5-game stretch of @WVU, vs OSU, @KU, vs BU, and @TCU at the tail-end of the schedule...and all three of those road games are on ESPN’s Big Monday national telecast.
Circle these dates on the calendar:
- Wed, Jan 2: K-State opens Big 12 play at home against Texas. While they had some notable departures, Shaka will have UT competing at a high level this year.
- Wed, Jan 9: The Wildcats host WVU in Manhattan. This is a must-win game for K-State to compete for a potential conference championship.
- Tue, Feb 5: KU comes to the Octagon. Make it happen.
- Mondays, Feb 18, Feb 25, and Mar 4: On the road at WVU, KU, and TCU. All are ranked preseason, all are Big Monday tilts, and every single one of them will be key to the conference chase. Don’t need to win them all, but we’re not getting a ‘chip going 0-3.
- Sat, Mar 9: Senior Day against OU. Go cheer on these amazing four-year guys that have treated us to a hell of a rollercoaster, and hopefully we’ll be celebrating a Big 12 Championship at the buzzer.
So what does this schedule shape up to? I think we end up starting conference play at 11-1, with the most likely loss being the road trip to Marquette, but there exists potential to drop a stupid game in the Paradise Jam or the road tilt at Tulsa. I don’t see this team losing more than one. I’ll throw a road trip against Texas A&M in the middle of the Big 12 slate as a win because hey, its early!
In conference play, OU, OSU, and Baylor are all should win road games this season, with ISU right on the verge if it wasn’t for that damned Hilton Coliseum. I do think we’ll pick up one of the road games at WVU/KU/TCU, so I’ll be conservative and say we win four on the road. We’ll probably lose one conference game at home - either KU, or something expected/unexpected like a hot-shooting ISU - but the Octagon will be rocking again this season. Put home and road together, and that works out to be 12-6...which will probably work out to a second place conference finish, and a 24-7 overall regular season record.
That’s my thoughts, anyway - we’ll see you around these parts throughout the season!