I’m not going to lie, this team had me questioning everything I know about basketball. I think I have a decent understanding of what a team will look like coming into any given season. Granted, not the sort of understanding that could make me money in the world of sports gambling, but good enough not to say stupid stuff in season previews. This team had me shook.
I didn’t expect the team to be “good” or even “decent” but I didn’t expect the train wreck crashing into another train wreck that this season has been up until a week or so ago. I thought this was going to be a young, turnover-prone team that hung around in most games and occasionally clipped a team that overlooked them. Instead I got a young team that was so overmatched it didn’t matter how hard they played, they were getting blown off the court.
I’ll give myself a bit of a pass, because there isn’t exactly a precedent for young teams playing during a pandemic. I hope I never have to take that into consideration in the future, but if it comes up again, sell any team that has to rely on freshmen during a pandemic. Maybe no team is struggling on quite the Wildcats’ level (even though Iowa State has a worse record, they’ve been closer in many of their losses), but there are plenty of teams not playing up to their normal standards.
Duke is 7-8
Kentucky is 5-13
North Carolina is 12-6
Kansas is 13-7
If you were counting on your freshman class to play big minutes, things haven’t gone well. I suppose that was foreseeable. The transition from high school to college is tough enough without throwing a global pandemic into the mix. Every team needs practice, but teams trying to incorporate several freshmen into the lineup reeeeeaaally need practice, regardless of their talent level.
There is no excuse for the basketball abomination wearing purple and white (with occasional splashes of lavender) this season. They shouldn’t have been this bad.
At the same time, the last two weeks have given me a glimmer of hope. While I detest moral victories, the teams we’ve seen against Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Texas, and to a certain extent, Kansas, has given me hope for the future. The team I was expecting to see has finally made an appearance in 2021. They’re not good, maybe not even decent, but they play hard, and you can see, in theory, a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, that isn’t a runaway freight train.
Nijel Pack is a budding star for the Wildcats. He’s an elite shooter and can take a game over when he’s hot. He needs to be paired with another guard that can help shoulder the ball-handling load in order for him to utilize his shooting ability to its fullest, and will probably never be more than serviceable on defense, but his shooting, passing, and overall feel for the game should make him a K-State legend by the end of his five years in Manhattan.
Davion Bradford is a legit center, and is improving with every game. His ceiling will only be limited by his physical conditioning and ability to stay out of foul trouble. Those things tend to improve on a year-to-year basis, and it’s not hard to envision him as an automatic double-double in a season or two.
Selton Miguel is a live wire, and isn’t afraid of anyone on the court. He brings an edge to the team that is much-needed. He still needs to figure out how to play right at the edge of reckless without falling over that edge, but again, that should come with more experience. His potential to be a rim-punishing slasher and lockdown defender should pair well with Pack’s more stoic demeanor.
Supporting Cast...Maybe More?
I like some of the other guys on the team, but I had those guys pegged as the future of the program in the preseason, and they’re finally giving me reason to believe.
I don’t know if Kaosi Ezeagu’s skill level will ever catch up to his physical skills, but man, if they do, he’s going to be a beast. You don’t find guys built like that everyday. In a world of absurdly tall, athletic big guys, Kaosi stands out on the court.
I was skeptical about Antonio Gordon initially. I didn’t see him as a guy with a particularly high ceiling, but his work on the glass over the last few games has started to change my mind. I now think he’s an important piece of the frontcourt puzzle in the future if he can continue to hit the glass hard and keep his “what was that” shots to a minimum.
I’m not sure DaJuan Gordon is going to be a primary scorer for the Wildcats moving forward, and he has forced the issue at times this year, but he plays hard night in and night out, and I think he’ll be better all-around when he doesn’t have to try and carry the scoring load.
Luke Kasubke is still an interesting player. He needs to carve out a clear role on the team as a wing shooter, and he hasn’t done that yet, but you can see flashes of what he might be able to bring to the squad in the future.
Rudy Williams is a serviceable point guard at the moment, and could become more than that over the next two seasons.
Seryee Lewis is a guy that would have 100% redshirted in a normal season, but the springing 6’9 forward out of Chicago has shown a few things in limited minutes.
The Grizzled Vet
Finally, you’ve got to respect Mike McGuirl. There isn’t an ounce of give up in that dude. Even more so than DaJuan, Mike isn’t cut out to be a lead scorer in the Big 12, but he’s giving it everything he’s got game in and game out.
The obvious question that needs to be answered sooner, rather than later, is the future of Bruce Weber. I said before the season that Bruce was all-in with this roster reset, and his future would be settled, one way or the other, after next season. I know, that’s probably a controversial take after the slop y’all have been forced to watch, but I still feel like it’s the right course.
At the same time, if Bruce was put out to pasture to enjoy his golden years, I wouldn’t argue with the decision.
I think he stays, but if he goes, it’s certainly justified.
Going with the assumption that Bruce and the roster return next season, I’m cautiously optimistic (barring another injury catastrophe) that this roster can claw its way out of the basement, and into the midlevel of the Big 12. This isn’t a penthouse level roster by any means, but I think it has an outside shot at the tournament next year and is a lock as a tournament team in two seasons.
I’m not sure that timeline saves Bruce’s job, and Wildcat fans deserve a faster rebound after the last two seasons. To me, this team screams for a grad transfer scoring guard/wing to pair with Pack. Honestly, there is enough talent sprinkled throughout the roster to possibly draw a scorer to Manhattan with the promise of minutes. Throw a consistent 12-15 point scorer onto this roster and the timeline accelerates substantially.
If they don’t bring in anyone else, DaJuan Gordon has to be that guy, and I’m not sure that’s who he is on a game-to-game basis.
The 2021 vintage of this team is terrible swill, but with a season or two in the cellar, it could be a tasty libation. I know patience is a virtue, and Kansas State fans are tired of being virtuous, but such is life.
Y’all stay warm out there.