Team Preview: 2014 Kansas State Wildcats
By: Dan Ilika
Coach: Bruce Weber, 27-8 at Kansas State
2012-13 record: 27-8, 14-4 in the Big 12
Kansas State’s basketball program is an interesting one if nothing else. Founded in 1902, the program has a very storied past yet not a whole lot to show for it: 27 NCAA tournament appearances, zero championships. More than 50 former Wildcats have played pro ball over the years, but not many would make an all-time-anything list. Yet somehow, some way, Kansas State is one of those squads you just can’t count out, year after year.
The 2013-14 season will be no different. Led by defensive-minded coach Bruce Weber, the Wildcats have a roster full of good-but-not-great players who understand their respective roles and could challenge cross-state rival Kansas for another Big 12 Championship.
Strongside: Top to bottom, the K-State roster is about as complete as it gets when it comes to size across all positions. In the backcourt, the Wildcats have big guards—not one is listed under six feet—that can match up well with any squad in the country. Up front, Coach Weber has forwards with plenty of weight who can help play mismatches on the block. Look for six-foot-seven bruiser Thomas Gipson to lead the charge down low. What he lacks in height compared to some of the other bigs around the country, he more than makes up for in weight and will surely make use of all his 265 pounds to get position down low on both ends of the floor.
Freshman guards Marcus Foster and Jevon Thomas will look to make up for the loss of Angel Rodriguez and Rodney McGruder in the backcourt. Rodriguez, who transferred to the Miami Hurricanes last spring, was Kansas State’s leader on the floor, and McGruder was the team’s leader on the stat sheet. Their combined presence will surely be missed, but the duo of Foster and Thomas will help mitigate the losses with sharp shooting and crisp passing. Seniors Shane Southwell and Will Spradling will help bring some leadership to the floor.
Weakside: The biggest challenge for Kansas State this season will be at the point guard position, where the loss of Rodriguez leaves Coach Weber with a big hole in his starting lineup. That hole became even harder to fill after Thomas was declared ineligible until December, leaving the keys solely in the hands of Spradling.
The Wildcats will also face a hurdle in the paint, where a lack of height may hurt the team against bigger opponents. While Gipson plays bigger than he is, the big man is joined by fellow undersized forward D.J. Johnson on the block. Another heavy hitter at six-foot-nine and 250 pounds, Johnson brings plenty more size but not the height Weber and the Wildcats so desperately need.
All Told: Despite the lack of size and point guard dependability, things, as always, look pretty good for Kansas State. With a good blend of youth and experience on the roster, the Wildcats may not be tournament favorites, but you would be hard-pressed to count the team out.