It’s often said that a college basketball team’s season is only judged on the success or lack thereof in postseason play.
The same can’t be said for the 2014 version of the Kansas State Wildcats. Bruce Weber has squeezed just about all he can out of this team that is not only short on eligible scholarship players, but flat short height wise and experience wise.
For all intents and purposes, K-State’s season ended with Saturday’s 76-74 loss to Baylor in Manhattan and while the season has had more than it’s fair share of disappointments, it should be viewed largely as a success.
This is a team that was picked to finish fifth in the preseason polls and that’s exactly where it finished. It’s a team that wasn’t expected to make the NCAA tournament, yet K-State will hear its named called on selection Sunday for the fifth straight year.
So yes, they are going to NCAA Tournament, but if they manage to win one game, it would probably be a lot. The same can be said for the Big 12 Tournament at the Sprint Center later this week.
The Kansas State Wildcats had a shot, if things fell in their favor on the final Saturday in conference play, to be the No. 3 seed in the Big 12 Tournament. Instead, it was yet another opportunity missed.
Now with the fifth seed, the Wildcats face a much tougher road to navigate if they want to reach the final for the second straight year.
The Wildcats, now on the same side of the Bracket as the Kansas Jayhawks, have to get by Iowa State in the early game on Thursday. The two teams are a good matchup, but if the Cyclones hit their outside shots, it’s tough to think of a way K-State advances past this game.
Both teams are undersized, neither team with a player standing taller than 6-foot-7. The two times they met this year were good games, the Cyclones winning in Ames 81-78 and the Wildcats winning in Manhattan 80-73.
It’s a game that could go either way and should come down to a possession or two at the end. It should. But with the way K-State finished the season, it would be no surprise if the Cyclones win easily.
It’s been that kind of season for K-State. Every step forward is usually followed by a step or two backwards.
Freshman Marcus Foster is obviously K-State’s best player and at times this year, he’s been good enough for K-State to rely on him to lead them to a victory. On Sunday he was named to the second team, all Big 12 team.
Quite an accomplishment in a league that is loaded with NBA caliber guards. Far too often unfortunately, his play does not determine the outcome for K-State. That responsibility lands squarely on the shoulders of seniors Will Spradling and Shane Southwell.
Far too often this season, it’s a responsibility the duo wasn’t totally prepared for.
Spradling’s career in Manhattan has been criticized endlessly by fans. But it’s a career that will end with him finishing in the top 10 in 10 different offensive categories in K-State’s all time record books.
This year, when Spradling has shot the ball well, the Wildcats usually win. When he doesn’t, as was the case against Baylor, they struggle to score. In K-State’s 10 conference wins, Spradling shot 42% from the three point line, making 20-of-42 attempts.
In their eight conference losses, that number drops to 28%, making only nine-of 32 shots from three-point range.
Southwell has been K-State’s most versatile player. Last season, he was K-State’s best outside shooter.
After shooting only 27% from the three-point line as a freshman and 24% as a sophomore, Southwell flourished as an outside shooter under Bruce Weber as a junior, making 44% from outside, which was good enough for the second highest percentage in the Big 12.
This season, he’s battled injury and inconsistency, and it’s cost him and the rest of the Wildcats. His three-point percentage has dropped all the way back to 29%.
With the unexpected departure of Angel Rodriguez, Weber was forced to hand the leadership of this team over to Southwell and Spradling. Neither flourished in the role and in the end it led to the inconsistencies that plagued the season throughout.
When K-State inevitably bows out of the NCAA Tournament, likely during the first weekend of the tournament, we should look back on this season as progress. It was supposed to be a rebuilding year, and in all likelihood, K-State is going to the big dance.
That’s what successful basketball programs do. Elite programs reload. That isn’t what K-State is. What they are is a successful program that Weber has guided to the NCAA Tournament while only playing with 10 scholarship players.
Next season, the Wildcats will have a legitimate star. Foster will receive a lot of preseason hype and will likely be on all of the preseason first-team All Big 12 lists. Five of the team’s seven leading scorers will return, including Thomas Gipson, who took stepped in as team leader this year when Spradling and Southwell didn’t.
Add transfers Justin Edwards and Brandon Bolden, along with Foster and the other freshman, Wesley Iwundu, Nigel Johnson, and Jevon Thomas, the team’s athleticism will be vastly improved over this year’s squad.
It’s always easy to be optimistic when looking into the future, but it’s hard not to think that way when looking at what the 2014-2015 version of the Kansas State Wildcats could be. There were opportunities missed throughout this season, but missed opportunities can often be turned into good experience and valuable lessons, regardless of how painful they may have been at the time they happened.
Learning how to win on the road is a must. Great teams don’t go 2-7 on the road. Learning how to play with a lead is vital. On several occasions this season, the Wildcats held double-digit leads in the second half, only to allow the competition claw back into the game.
The Kansas State Wildcats should be picked to finish in the top half again next fall, and if they finish higher than they did this year, it will be because of the experience gained by the young players gained this year.
As far as this year is concerned, a 10-8 record in conference and another 20-win season with a victory over Kansas can’t be considered anything but a success.