Wildcats are crashing and burning

By Steve Sell
February 12, 2015

The bottom has fallen out of Kansas State’s men’s basketball season.

The Wildcats’ fifth-straight loss occurred Wednesday night on national television as they were outlasted 76-72 by their former coach Bob Huggins and West Virginia.

It was Huggins, in his one year at Manhattan, who turned around the Wildcats’ fortunes after they suffered through an ignominious stretch of years by Kansas State’s high standards, lowlighted by the tenures of the forgettable Tom Asbury and Jim Wooldridge.

The Wildcats are now 5-7 in the Big 12, 12-13 overall. And they’re certainly gulping hard as they look at the remaining schedule, which includes games against ranked teams Oklahoma, Baylor, Kansas and Iowa State, not to mention the season finale at Texas, which is in a neck-and-neck battle with the Wildcats for the Big 12’s Most Disappointing Team of the Year honors.

Bruce Weber was the toast of Manhattan in his first year when he took the players recruited by Frank Martin and McPherson native Brad Underwood and steered them to a share of the Big 12 title with in-state rival Kansas, going 27-8 overall. 

The Wildcats were 20-13 last year and fifth in the Big 12, but did advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, so the seven-game dip in wins was masked.

Now, with mostly his own players, the Wildcats virtually have to win out to be considered for the NCAA tourney (unlikely), or win the Big 12 Tournament (doubtful).

A lot of the problems can be traced to star player Marcus Foster’s down season. Foster was a steal of a recruit in his first year at Kansas State, but something has gone haywire in his relationship with Weber. It was evident early in the season that Foster wasn’t the same player as last year and his attitude landed him on the bench, before he was suspended. He has sat the last three games, but indications are he’ll be back for the next game.

It doesn’t seem fair that Foster is the KSU fans’ main whipping post, but so much was expected of him since he has All-America-type potential and his funk has had an effect on the rest of the team. After his earlier benching, he did come back with a couple of Foster-freshman-like performances, but then he got sideways again with Weber and earned the suspension, along with teammate Malek Harris.

Weber’s first three years at his former stop, Illinois, produced no less than 26 wins and a national runner-up finish in his second year. But again, he was mostly coaching the players left by Bill Self when he went to Kansas.

In his final five years at Illinois, the Fighting Illini were 41-49 in Big 10 play, which pink slipped him out of town.

You have to wonder if Weber can recruit the type of players that Huggins, Martin, Underwood and Delonte Hill did while at Manhattan. You don’t see the likes of Michael Beasley, Bill Walker and Jacob Pullen igniting fans at Bramlage Coliseum. Right now, the Wildcats are a team that plays hard, but falls far shot in skill-sets of previous Kansas State teams.

If the Wildcats haven’t reached the bottom yet and the stench of this season becomes even more rancid, will Weber survive? In this day and age of college basketball the leash is short. My guess is that Weber will be given next season to turn it back around, but he’ll be walking a tightrope. Another bad year could result in a phone call — say to Brad Underwood or Steve Henson?