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Hardwood Haziness: Part 2 - Why Are We Here?

The second of a three-part series diving into the 2019-2020 K-State Men’s Basketball season

A big part of our ineffectiveness this year could be rectified if we got more good Mak than bad.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

In our previous installment, we took a look at this 2019-2020 Kansas State Wildcats men’s basketball team from a statistical perspective. We deduced, predictably, that we have a pretty sour offense to complement our decently sweet defense. In this investigation, we’re going to apply what we know and create a few hypotheses as to how we got here. As a note, the stats noted below are up through the Bradley game, and do not consider our Florida A&M matchup on Monday.

Part 2: Why are we here?

The story from the K-State camp coming into the season was one of faster tempo and better outside shooting. I’ll concede the faster tempo (we’re finally out of the bottom third! Yay!), but the shooting is just not the case. We could continue to drown this analysis in statistics, but let’s just say this is tracking to be the worst shooting team that K-State has put on the floor since 2001 - Jim Wooldridge’s first season. Prior to Monday night’s tilt against Florida A&M, Cartier Diarra was 5-28 (17.9%) from beyond the arc, which is nothing if not horrible for a scoring guard. Xavier Sneed wasn’t tremendously better, at 10-35 (28.6%). Let’s hit on a few key points for this season so far:

This is a rebuilding, not reloading, year.

Very few teams truly are able to “reload” without missing much of a beat every couple years. If you want to know who those are, go take a gander at the top-half of the AP Top 25 every year. K-State is not one of them.

It’s also important to recognize that this rebuilding year could likely still be attributed to the tumultuous 2014-2015 season, where Weber and his staff had to hit the reset button on team makeup. That reset gave us the Barry Brown/Dean Wade/Kamau Stokes trio. However, such a critical core of four-year players like that can also create a bit of a vacuum immediately behind, which is what we’re seeing today. It’s extremely difficult to replace three program-notable players at the same time.

No on-floor leadership.

Not only is there a bit of talent vacuum that we’re dealing with after last year’s championship season, we’re severely lacking that on-court voice. That field general. Exactly what Barry Brown brought to the floor for the rest of his teammates.

Watching these games, the player demeanor, the discipline; it’s not just that the leadership is lacking…there is none. No voice. No rock. No foundation.

Players typically develop this leadership and voice over their career, and by the time they’re upperclassmen, they exercise that voice. With Xavier Sneed and Cartier Diarra playing behind players like Barry, Dean, and Kam, they’ve never had to develop that leadership skill. Expecting someone to develop that over one offseason is a big ask, especially when that player or players may not be a natural leader.

In the absence of this much-needed on-floor management, Weber and his staff is going to have to do a lot more active coaching from the sideline, and sideline coaching at this level is only so effective. And it’s effectiveness (or ineffectiveness, in this case) is directly tied to:

This team currently lacks discipline. In a big way.

We can attribute this to just how young this team is, right smack in the middle of the NCAA in total experience. Sneed can only do so much leading by example, and Diarra has a bit of a selfish streak in him. Mike McGuirl is a undisciplined player for his experience, with a habit of taking bad, “its my turn” shots and being too risky on defense. Makol Mawien…well, we’ll get to him later. Outside of that, we’ve got a pool of freshmen and newcomers that, thanks to the drawbacks that come along with AAU ball and generally being the best players on their teams, don’t truly know what it means to be disciplined on the floor - taking care of the ball, running the offense sharply, taking good shots, closing out on shooters, blocking out, securing rebounds. Really playing “team first” basketball.

What we saw in Fort Myers this past week was an unfortunate mixture of this lack of discipline and lack of floor leadership. If Weber has to actively coach from the sideline, and the players aren’t disciplined enough to follow through on his commands, the results won’t be pretty. As a matter of fact, the results look like two straight losses. The results look like a lot of “hero ball”, and there isn’t a player on this team that possesses the offensive talent to satisfactorily do so. So let’s talk about that for a moment:

Xavier Sneed does not feel like an NBA talent right now.

We have no idea what X was told in his NBA workouts last offseason. However, judging by his play so far, it’s reasonable to presume that someone told him his future in the NBA is as a “three-and-D” player: a role player that plays high-energy defense, and offensively makes their living on the perimeter. And from a certain perspective, the suggested role fits. His first several games showcased launching more threes than usual, to the clip of about 6 a game; up nearly a shot and a half from last season. Honestly, though, that could probably just as easily be attributed to the absence of the aforementioned Brown/Wade/Stokes trio as much or more than Sneed simply looking for more threes.

Oddly enough, as we say that, he’s currently averaging more twos attempted than threes, which he’s never done in his career. It just feels like you’re taking a lot of threes when they’re not going in.

Xavier is averaging 14.5ppg, 5.8rpg, 1.2apg in 33.8mpg. His scoring and rebounding are decent chunks of the overall team production. Shooting-wise though, 38.2% FG, 28.6% 3PFG, and 67.9% FT are not only not NBA-worthy, they’re really not worthy of mentioning in a grander Division I NCAA landscape. Statistically, Sneed is performing worse as a senior than any of his previous three seasons, and compared to his peers, just doesn’t score the ball well enough this year.

But there is plenty of time left in the season for him to rectify it.

Defensively, he’s just inside the top 400 players in the country in Defensive Rebounding rate, and almost to the top 250 in Steal rate. Good, but not good enough to play in the NBA in a role where defense is your ticket.

Many comparisons are made between Sneed and fellow Wildcat alum Wesley Iwundu when talking about NBA prospects…though based on position and build, former K-Stater Rodney McGruder might be the more appropriate measuring stick. Regardless, where both Iwundu and McGruder stand out compared to X is on the offensive end of the court. Fans are quick to forget that as a senior, Iwundu shot nearly 38% from three, over 75% from the line, and had an eFG% of 53.2%. While McGruder only shot 33% from three his senior campaign, his overall offensive prowess was even higher during the conference slate, and finished with an eFG% approaching 50%. They were also both more capable of creating their own shot, as well. X’s game is really predicated on working with someone else - whether it’s a two-man game or motion offense - to find good shots. He hasn’t shown the ability to just out-athlete the guy facing him and create that shot.

Xavier currently has an eFG% of 44.7%, which is his worst by 4%.

Will X find his way into The League? If draft day was today, probably not. But there’s quite a few games left this season, including the entirety of the Big 12 slate. Most K-State players that have made an NBA or G-League roster have ramped it up late, and done a lot of damage against other conference foes. He’s going to have to in order for the Wildcats to have success, because:

K-State has zero realistic post presence.

Oh, we’ve got bodies. That’s not the problem. Here are our players listed 6-8 or taller:

Makol Mawien (6-9) - starter

Antonio Gordon (6-9) - starter

Levi Stockard III (6-8) - bench

Montavious Murphy (6-9) - injured

James Love III (6-11) - injured

Nigel Shadd (6-9) - injured

Joe Petrakis (6-9) - hasn’t played a minute

If you recall from a preseason Bring On The Podcats, we posited whether Makol Mawien is the “best bad player” or “worst good player” we’ve seen, and he continues to be stuck in that purgatory. For this season, he’s averaging just over 8 points and 5 rebounds a game, which are career highs for his three-year tenure at K-State. His 47% FG rate this year is his lowest (and too low for an experienced post player), and isn’t even averaging a full blocked shot per game.

Makol only plays 21 minutes a game, primarily due to foul trouble or general ineffectiveness on both ends of the floor; and has consistently been in that usage range his entire career. If his time could be boosted to 27 minutes a game, and his stats were 11 and 7, we probably wouldn’t have as much of a concern. Except for the turnovers. While Mawien averages only 2 turnovers per game, it feels like so much more, because they’re not aggressive turnovers; when he coughs up the ball, it’s typically because he’s just not strong enough with the rock, or makes lazy, lackadaisical passes that get picked off.

The real problem is that for as hot and cold as Mak can be, his replacements are a significant drop off. Levi Stockard also averages the same 2 turnovers a game, and puts up a paltry 5 points and 3 rebounds a game in 17 minutes of action, shooting only 44% from the floor. Stockard has difficulty defending competent post players, and often finds himself out of position on help defense against penetrating guards. He has exactly zero blocked shots this year.

Between Nigel Shadd (So) and James Love III (Jr), there are two bigger bodies that have been continually stricken with injuries. It’s hard to develop when you’re hurt all the time, and when you don’t develop, you don’t get any better. I genuinely hope they can get healthy and contribute, but they’re not going to move the needle at this point.

Montavious Murphy and Antonio Gordon both join the team as freshmen this year. Though AG is 6-9, he plays much more as a stretch 4 than a true post player. He’ll be a notable part of this team moving forward, but not as any sort of an anchor in the paint. Murphy was starting in the 4-spot at the beginning of the season, and prior to his knee injury against Monmouth, had been showing promise. He’s a little more of a paint-oriented stretch-4, capable of stepping outside and credibly hitting the long jumper. There’s some learning that needs to happen on his part to be able to defend at this level, but he was on his way. His injury is probably the most unfortunate, because again - injuries take time away from not just your contribution, but your development.

Possession of the ball is not valued.

In danger of beating a dead horse, we know this team is not great offensively. A big part of that is not valuing the ball. Hammered on in the recap of the game against Florida A&M, we see this team continually make tough passes instead of easy ones. Taking bad shots instead of good ones. Make poor decisions on dribble penetration, lack of movement, etc.

This K-State team turns the ball over 14.9 times per game, at a rate of 21.6%. This is the worst turnover rate for a K-State team since Frank Martin’s 2011 team also hit 21.6%, and hasn’t been bested since 2006’s 22.0%, Jim Wooldridge’s last season in Manhattan.

We’ve established that we struggle scoring to begin with. When you’re coughing up your opportunities to do so at a historically high rate, that’s not helping matters. Turnovers kill runs, they chop momentum, and they increase frustration on everyone’s part.

All in all, there are a lot of reasons as to why this team isn’t where they probably should be, or even meeting expectations. I’m sure there are plenty more if we wanted to continue - feel free to sound off in the comments with your observations. But most of these we can get better at, and in the final part, we’ll project just that.