Sigh, that little Texas Tech, Texas run was fun wasn’t it?
Hell, the first half of the Kansas game was immensely enjoyable as well. Then Bill Self ruined it all by realizing that Kansas State has no chance of competing on the boards without a healthy power forward on the roster and a pocket-sized backcourt. He decided to break the stifling Wildcat perimeter defense by having his guards toss the ball towards the rim and then unleashing his size advantage on the offensive glass. K-State locked up the Jayhawks most of the night, but it didn’t matter, because the last phase of defense is securing the rebound, and the Wildcats, despite making every effort, simply could not rebound. It’s been all downhill since (including whatever happened in Waco that I’m not even going to mention) and with Miguel out for an indeterminate amount of times, it might get worse (sorry y’all).
This is a weird roster, and the fact that a good bit of it was pieced together in the transfer is starting to show. The first gaping chasm is the power forward position, and it’s by far the most frustrating because the 2019 recruiting class should (had to) produce at least one viable power forward, and it didn’t. The portal fixes some recruiting problems, but when you go 0-5, including 0-2 at power forward, the portal can only plaster over so much. Coach Weber needed either Antonio Gordon or Montavious Murphy to hit. Gordon is currently plying his trade for the Southeastern Louisiana Lions and Murphy, even more incredibly, is one of those cautionary portal stories. As far as I can tell, Montavious hasn’t found a place to play yet. He would be a key contributor to this Kansas State team.
The 2021 class wasn’t much help on the boards either. You can’t play Logan Landers next to a center without making him wear a giant red traffic cone on his head. Maximus Edwards has the build and athleticism to potentially help, but he’s out for the year with an injury. As far as the transfer market goes, Ish Massoud is tall, 6’8”, but he has to jog around in the shower to get wet. Sometimes you can get away with that, but he’s not particularly athletic and is more comfortable playing outside the 3-point line. Mark Smith is the best rebounder on the team, but he’s a either a tallish shooting guard or smallish small forward. He’s a smart player that is adapt at reading the ball off the rim, but that can only get you so far when the other team decides to swarm the glass.
Outside of recruiting misses, injuries have played a role in the reboundless squad K-State has to play to compete. When Kaosi Ezeagu signed with the Wildcats, I thought he had the athleticism to play a burly power forward, but his lateral mobility hasn’t recovered from his knee injury. That knee brace as massive, and I can only imagine what it’s protecting. In addition to Ezeagu, Seryee Lewis’s season ending injury is hurting the team more than I anticipated. If you’re looking for the rebounding specialist on this team, it’s Lewis. His scouting report on 247 from National recruiting analyst Josh Gershon states that “Lewis is a very good rebounder on both ends of the floor. His motor and toughness make him a formidable defender.” If any team could use an athletic, tough, rebounder with a high motor, it’s this team.
To compound matters, Kansas State’s best lineup features 5’8” Markquis Nowell and 6’0” (which might be a little inflated) Nijel Pack in the back court. Now with Miguel out, you’ve got to assume that 6’3” Mike McGuirl steps back into the starting lineup. That’s a rare 3-point guard lineup, with Mark Smith 6’4” at power forward. That’s a ton of size to give away. At the same time, I’m not sure starting Ish at power forward helps the rebounding situation, in fact it might make it worse. I think McGuirl is the better rebounder of the two, even if he’s five inches shorter.
All of this could somewhat mitigated by a glass clearing center, but Davion Bradford, for a multitude of reasons, isn’t that guy. His defensive rebounding percentage, as a 7-footer on a team of guards, is 9.5%. If you plug Ezeagu into the line up, his defensive rebounding percentage is better, at 17.4, but it’s still not good, and certainly not good enough to compensate for giving up size at every position. To put that into perspective, Purdue, who also tends to play a smallish lineup plays either Trevion Williams (30.6 DR%) or Zach Edey (29.1 DR%) in the middle. Teams don’t beat Purdue up on the boards, even when they give away some size in the back court, because Williams and Edey control the glass. It doesn’t matter if you play small guards if your center is pulling the ball off the glass.
I wish there were a solution to this problem, but it’s only going to get worse. Most teams don’t bother crashing the offensive boards because they’re afraid to get beat in transition. Now that Kansas has exposed Kansas State’s inability to even compete on the boards, I expect more teams to crash the boards. The only solution is to try and punish teams in transition, and you saw that a couple times against the Jayhawks with run-outs, but not enough to outweigh getting beat on the boards 45-23 (including an astounding 18 offensive rebounds). Things improved slightly against a smaller Baylor team, but they still lost the rebounding battle 39-29 and gave up 11 offensive boards (luckily everything else sucked against Baylor, so rebounding didn’t cost them the game). Throw in the Selton injury, and this looks to be a fatal flaw.
The good news is that not every team is Kansas or Baylor. Baylor goes 6’8”(SF), 6’9”(PF) and a hefty 6’8” 245 (C) in their front court. Kansas goes 6’5(SG), 6’6”(SF), 6’8”(PF), and 6’10”(C). What makes those two teams particularly devastating is their size in tandem with their athletes. Ole Miss is big 6’6”(SF), 6’8”(PF) and 7’0”(C) but not nearly as athletic. They’re not as good on the glass and more susceptible to transition buckets, but don’t think for a second they’re not going to try and do the exact same thing Kansas (and to a lesser extent) Baylor did to the Wildcats on the glass.
If the Wildcats hold any aspirations of playing in the big tournament in March, they’ve got to try and figure out a way to not be totally dominated on the glass. That means the guards (all four of them) are going to have to do a better job of blocking out their opposite number. That probably means grabbing, pulling, scratching, and potentially eye gauging. At this point, if a team decides to crash the boards, Bradford is unplayable. I wouldn’t mind seeing Bruce go with more Carlton Linguard (10.9 DR%) or Logan Landers (10.5 DR%). Neither of them are glass cleaners, but at this point, they should at least get the opportunity to prove they can’t rebound. We know Bradford can’t rebound (I hope he reads this article, decides to start rebounding, and thanks his haters for the motivation).