As the season started it was tough to tell how Kansas State would compare to their Big 12 conference mates, especially given the departure of coach Frank Martin. They brought in Bruce Weber and his staff, which includes Chris Lowery, a former head coach himself, and Chester Frazier, a Weber 4-year player at Illinois. Both Lowery and Frazier are known for their extra emphasis on defense, with Frazier being one of the standout defenders in the Big 10 during his time at Illinois.
Fortunately for the Wildcats, they returned several starters from last season’s team. Rodney McGruder returned for his senior season and is the unquestioned leader of this team. He has gotten off to a slow start so far, but is starting to find his way in Weber’s motion offense. He has been aided by Will Spralding, who has played well early in the season, along with Angel Rodriguez. The rest of the rotation fills out with undersized, but solid front court depth from Jordan Henriquez, Thomas Gipson, and Shane Southwell.
The Wildcats have had a tough non-conference schedule, highlighted by match-ups with Michigan, Gonzaga, and Florida. It was easy to see that it was taking some time for the players to acclimate to a new coach and system early on, especially in their losses to Michigan and Gonzaga, but they look to be buying in as non-conference play closes out. The Wildcats put together an impressive display of defense against one of the best backcourts in the nation against Florida. The combination of Rodriguez and Spralding held Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario to a combined 16 points on 5-for-20 shooting. Patric Young gave the front court a hard time, but Henriquez provided a strong lift off the bench with 9 points and 6 rebounds to complement the guard trio of McGruder, Spralding, and Rodriguez.
Kansas State closes out their non-conference schedule with winnable games against UMKC and South Dakota, before opening conference play with a tough contest against Oklahoma State. The Wildcats will be a tough team to beat in conference play, especially as the team gets further acclimated to Coach Weber’s system. Assuming that McGruder will pick up his level of play, that should drive them forward into the NCAA tournament.
Updated Conference Power Rankings
1. Kansas 2. Oklahoma State 3. Kansas State 4. Baylor 5. Texas 6. Iowa State 7. West Virginia 8. Oklahoma 9. Texas Tech 10. TCU
Amit Tailor is a Midwest scout and covers the Big 12 for NetScouts Basketball.