Given the never-ending national acclaim of the Kansas Jayhawks and the recent meteoric rise of everybody’s favorite mid-major underdog Wichita State, Kansas State’s basketball team sometimes gets overlooked in the Sunflower State despite the fact all three made it to the national tournament last year.
I’m sure that’s OK with the Wildcats. They’re following in the footsteps of Bill Snyder’s football team, the most under-appreciated team in the country.
The Wildcats are off to a 2-0 start and I viewed their game Monday against Missouri conqueror UMKC.
While the Wildcats struggled with the ‘Roos for much of the game, there’s little doubt to me that before the end of the season they’ll be mentioned in the tournament talk with KU and WSU.
Bruce Weber’s team is nowhere near where it’s going to be. The Wildcats have suffered from a spate of injuries and Weber used only eight players on Monday. Nino Williams was among those who sat out and big things are expected from the former Leavenworth High star. Big man D.J. Johnson, who I thought was underutilized last year, could be out for the year with a foot injury. Malek Harris, a highly regarded newcomer, also was out with an injury.
Kansas State has star power in guard Marcus Foster, who somehow was overlooked by the blueblood programs in his recruitment. Foster is probably a Top 20 player in the nation and gives the Wildcats that go-to operative.
Thomas Gipson, who no longer has to carry the load inside, is solid. He powered his way to 21 points against UMKC and appears primed for a big year.
Heralded transfer Stephen Hurt, a huge (6-11) man with a feathery touch, is going to be a factor. His ability to shoot from the outside opens up infinite possibilities.
Jevon Thomas and Nigel Johnson are a two-headed monster at the point. If one doesn’t have it on a given night, the other will. No problems here.
Wesley Iwundu is coming off an injury, but he was one of the best freshmen in the country last year. Transfer Jeff Edwards is a dynamic player and scorer. Tre Harris has some talent, but finding minutes in this deep rotation could be problem. Georgetown transfer Brandon Bolden, who gives the Wildcats more size at 6-11, didn’t even see the floor after opening some eyes in the season’s first game.
I liked how the Wildcats worked the ball for a good shot. They were 28 of 48 from the field, a sizzling 8 of 13 from 3-point. Their free throwing wasn’t exemplary (19 of 29), but they dominated the boards, had 28 baskets on 22 assists, but did turn it over 17 times.
As far as the Big 12, I think the Wildcats can make a serious run at the Top 3. Kansas is the heavy favorite, but chemistry issues could come into play. Texas may be a bit overrated at this point and it may take time for the usual transfers to get on the same page at Iowa State. Never count out Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and West Virginia, all tough venues to win at. Only Texas Tech and TCU figure to be on the outside looking.
Don’t fall asleep on the Wildcats. They have a team capable of making it maybe to the Sweet 16. All the pieces are there, it’s just a matter of putting them together.