Bruce Weber has bad timing. Perhaps it’s bad luck. Twice in his career he’s accepted a job replacing a coach that was that school’s most popular coach in decades. At Illinois, it was Bill Self and at Kansas State, it was Frank Martin. Both fan bases loved those coaches and were devastated when each decided to leave.
Weber’s history of putting himself in difficult coaching situations includes a track record of horrible PR moves. At Illinois, it was the faux-funeral he held for Bill Self. He says it was to benefit his players and to stop the fans from endlessly asking them about Self. It was an ill-advised move to make, regardless, but to do it openly was dumb. After accepting the K-State job, he readily admitted he was all but ready to take the head coaching job at the College of Charleston.
No disrespect to the College of Charleston, but beating them out for a coach wasn’t exactly what K-State fans were looking for at the time. If you look at how the games have been attended in Manhattan this year, I think K-State fans think Weber is Jim Wooldridge.
When Weber was hired at K-State, it wasn’t what Wildcat fans expected, to say the least. Weber had just been fired from Illinois and the K-State faithful were still reeling from the Martin/John Currie issues that led to Martin taking a much lesser job at South Carolina. But Weber did just what he did at Illinois. He took a group of players he didn’t recruit to a conference championship.
Nine months following K-State’s first conference championship in men’s basketball in 36 years, the jury is still out on Bruce Weber as the Wildcats’ head coach. A lot of that has to do with the extremely disappointing loss to Lasalle in the second round of the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats lost a lot. Talent wise they didn’t lose all that much, but experience wise, moxy wise, they lost a ton. The loss of Rodney McGruder, Jordan Henriquez and Martavious Irving was expected obviously, as they were seniors. But that could be prepared for.
What couldn’t be prepared for was losing Angel Rodriguez. A Second Team All Big 12 performer in 2012-13, Weber seemed to be grooming Rodriguez as K-State’s next leader. Instead, the Wildcats kind of coasted through it’s first few games without much leadership, a role Thomas Gipson has only recently accepted.
It’s too early to definitively say that that buried the 2013-2014 season. I think K-State is probably 9-1 or even 10-0 with Rodriguez, had he stayed, K-State fans would not be chomping at the bit to watch freshman Jevon Thomas as much as they are. Watching this team, it’s painfully obvious how much they miss Rodriguez. Will Spradling and Nigel Johnson try, but they’re not point guards.
The trip to Puerto Rico was a complete and utter disaster not to mention the season-opening loss to Northern Colorado.
Nothing positive can be said about a seventh place finish, even if it was one of the stronger pre season tournament fields this season. Soundly beaten by Charlotte, and crushed by Georgetown. The lone victory came in the last place game against Long Beach State, which is now 1-9 this season, with two of those losses coming against K-State. Long Beach State inexplicably went over 20 minutes without making a basket. TWENTY MINUTES!!! The 49ers missed 28 consecutive shots from the field during that stretch, managing only three free throws.
But since returning home from Puerto Rico, the Wildcats have won five straight games, including a good win against Ole Miss.
This season hasn’t been all that much unlike last year for Weber and the Cats. Through 10 games last season, K-State was 8-2, with the two loses being lopsided defeats at the hands of Michigan and Gonzaga. Rodney McGruder was bad in those first 10 games. Weber’s motion offense was a mess. But in the 11th game of the season, something clicked and K-State beat No. 8 Florida, 67-61. That led to a nine game winning streak, which set up what would prove to be the best regular season for K-State basketball in almost four decades.
The 11th game this year also presents an opportunity to turn a page and take a giant step forward. K-State faces No. 21 Gonzaga Saturday in Wichita. Not only that, but the Wildcats will finally have their point guard eligible. Jevon Thomas has been enrolled at K-State since last spring and for reasons only the NCAA can understand, Thomas hasn’t been able to practice or be involved in any team activities since.
On Saturday that ends. Weber has said he likely won’t play. He’s a true point guard and the lack of that has been plaguing the Wildcats all year. Expectations are unfairly high for him, but there is no doubt he will make this team better.
It’s hard to see a way for K-State to make the NCAA Tournament without beating Gonzaga Saturday, and then beating George Washington on New Years Eve, and even then you have to squint. The Big 12 will be tough on the Wildcats this season and anything more than a 9-9 conference record would be a surprise.
But no one thought last years team would find a way to win a share of the conference title either.
Give Weber this, he can coach. The question has always been whether or not he have a successful team made up of players he’s recruited. It haunted him at Illinois. He’s off to a good start at K-State with freshman Marcus Foster, who is averaging 14.1 points a game.
The best player on the team might be Justin Edwards, but he must sit out this season after transferring from Maine. Weber has already inked JUCO big man Stephen Hurt, who at 6-10 270 lbs will bring much needed size to the K-State roster.
This is likely an NIT team. Next season with Edwards, Hurt and the current freshman, will be the true test for Weber. Outside of Gipson, any meaningful player will be a Weber recruit. Regardless of the outcome of this season, Weber deserves time. He bought himself that last year.