Less than 3 weeks ago, Bruce Weber couldn’t have run for dogcatcher of Manhattan.
His Kansas State Wildcats lost their Big 12 opener, at home no less, by 20 points. They scored 47 points as their offense was as antiquated as the football team’s.
Then came a competitive road loss at Texas Tech, but nevertheless still a loss. The Wildcats were 0-2 to start the Big 12.
West Virginia and former Kansas State coach Bob Huggins then came to town. The Mountaineers hit the Wildcats in the mouth, leading by as many as 21 points early in the second half as the Octagon of Doom was as quiet as a church mouse.
But just as the toilet was about to be flushed on the season, the handle got stuck.
The Wildcats’ crowd willed them to their biggest comeback win ever as they pulled out a 71-69 victory to put a temporary salve on the wound.
Then, maybe the actual game to turn things around, the Wildcats sneered at Iowa State’s alleged “Hilton Magic” and came away with a 58-57 victory, a signal that something special may be happening.
Kansas State then knocked off Oklahoma, TCU and on Tuesday, they strafed Texas Tech to move to 5-2 in the Big 12 to tie with Kansas.
And Weber could probably win the mayoral race now.
The Wildcats have taken a circuitous route to the top, but this is where they were supposed to be. After all, they were picked my most experts to finish second to KU after making an Elite 8 run last year. They returned nearly all of their firepower and know they had better do something special this year because Dean Wade, Barry Brown and Kamau Stokes are about to exhaust their eligibility.
Of course, the foot injury to Wade didn’t help. He missed considerable time (6 games) and the Wildcats are merely pedestrian with him out. It’s not a deep Wildcat team, especially in the frontcourt. Levi Stockard, the first big in, averages 1.7 points and Jamies Love III averages 0.5. Austin Brice, who was supposed to be the next big thing, is at a whopping 2.0.
So this is a seven-man team, nearly all of them guards. Big man Makol Mawien scores 7.2 while Wade is at 13.3.
When you look at Kansas State’s wins, the common thread is defense. This team gets after it on that end of the floor and like the saying goes, “offense can come and go, but you can control your effort on defense.”
While Wade was the preseason choice for Player of the Year, it’s Brown who’s turning heads and taking over the team. He is averaging just under 16 points a game and even though he’s shooting only 44 percent, he has an uncanny knack of getting to the basket, or at the least gets fouled.
The Wildcats have yet to play Kansas, but my guess is both teams will hold serve on their home court. Weber hasn’t exactly had a lot of success against Bill Self and the two hardly have a friendly relationship since Weber’s “funeral” stunt when he was at Illinois and succeeded Self.
If ever there was a year for the Wildcats to win the Big 12 outright, this is the year. Kansas is skittish as its young players are terribly erratic and it doesn’t have big many Udoka Azubuike. They had better take advantage of the opportunity while they have it.