The Big 12 continues to look more and more competitive this year. Before conference play starts though, one player emerges as an underrated key for Kansas State.
A redshirt junior, Kaosi Ezeagu is not a player seen in highlight packages or in post-game headlines. He is a towering fixture of this year’s Kansas State Wildcat lineup. The 6’10” forward has started all 11 games this year for the Wildcats, yet averages less than 17 minutes per game. With the wildcats transitioning to more small-ball lineups, as seen against Nebraska and McNeese State, Ezeagu’s production and impact have faltered. However, Kansas State needs versatility, both offensively and defensively, against the upcoming Big 12 Conference slate. Ezeagu may be the key to that versatility and could be the reason Kansas State goes dancing in March.
Ezeagu had a strong start in Manhattan in 2020, starting the first four games as a transfer redshirt sophomore. A knee injury sidelined him for the next 10 games though and certainly hindered him for the remaining games.
“I feel like the [injury recovery] is still a work in progress, but I feel like I am around 80%-90%,” Ezeagu said in a Nov. 1, 2021 interview. “But, I work on it every day for the season and during the season.”
The 2020 Wildcats had a down year, to say the least, but Ezeagu’s return for injury did not help much. In Ezeagu’s 15 games following injury, he only scored more than seven points twice. He surpassed that in three of his four appearances prior to the injury. His average minutes played per game dropped by more than eight minutes after that injury as well. For most of his first season in Manhattan, Ezeagu was clearly not healthy. Still, he had moments where fans saw what made him a game-changing transfer from UTEP.
The Wildcats did not last long in March 2021. They lost to the Baylor Bears in the conference tournament and their nine wins did not earn them a tournament invitation. Ezeagu ended the season averaging 5.2 points and 3.2 rebounds in 16. minutes played. His 0.4 win shares and 11.9 Player Efficiency Rating ranked sixth on the team, according to Sports Reference. All in all, Ezeagu’s first season at Kansas State showed fans what he could do, but injury hobbled that production.
This season, Ezeagu is a pivotal player for the Wildcats. His 6.9 points per game rank sixth on the team, while his 4.6 rebounds per game are third. Ezeagu and sophomore Davion Bradford split minutes fairly evenly, but Ezeagu has the productive edge between the two. Fans need to only look at Ezeagu’s performance against Wichita State, on Dec. 5, 2021. In 25 minutes of action, he scored 14 points, with 83% shooting, and grabbed six rebounds. Statistically, Ezeagu had the best outing considering both teams. His 14.1 box score plus/minus led all players and his 158 offensive rating led the Wildcats.
Ezeagu was very vocal regarding the Wildcat’s performance, a surprising response from usually humble Kansas State.
“Put a little more respect on our name, that is all we ask,” Ezeagu said after the Wichita State game. “That is what we got after today … and we will keep moving forward.”
Ezeagu should demand more respect for his name as well. While his simple statistics may not be otherworldly, the analytics tell a different story. He leads Kansas State in field goal percentage, true shooting percentage, and offensive rating. Ezeagu’s 76% 2-point field goal percentage is second in the Big 12 and ninth nationally. On paper, Ezeagu is having his best offensive season in his college career. He has produced fewer blocks this year, only registering five so far this year. His offensive gains have certainly overshadowed this, especially since Ezagu is far from a defensive liability. He has a suffocating 7’1″ wingspan that looks scarily proportional.
Now 8-3 and on a three-game winning streak, the Wildcats need every edge they can get entering conference play. The Big 12 is college’s strongest conference at the season’s halfway point.
While Kansas State’s three losses are respectable, they are one of two Big 12 teams with more than two losses. Baylor and Iowa State are still undefeated, while West Virginia, TCU, and Kansas each have one loss. Cracking into the conference’s upper echelon will take every Wildcat doing their best. Junior Markquis Nowell and sophomore Nijel Pack are Kansas State’s offensive leaders and both started against Nebraska and McNeese State. Ezeagu only saw 13 minutes of action against McNeese State, where head coach Bruce Weber utilized more of a small ball lineup down the stretch. While the Wildcats did win handily, fans have to wonder if the guard-centric lineup in the future lineup.
- Player Efficiency Rating – 2nd
- True Shooting Percentage – 1st
- True Rebound Percentage – 2nd
- Offensive Win Shares – T-2nd
- Defensive Win Shares – 4th
- Box Score Plus/Minus – 3rd
- Win Shares/40 Minutes – 1st
- Effective Field Goal Percentage – 1st
Ezeagu’s statistics are hard to keep off the floor though. While Kansas State’s greatest chunk offensive players may come from the backcourt, Ezeagu is the Wildcat’s secret weapon right now. He should be on the floor as much as possible when the matchup allows it. Kansas State has the players to match small-ball lineups, but Ezeagu is the best traditional big man on the Kansas State roster.
Will Ezeagu be the difference-maker against Big 12 opponents? The numbers ay he can, but it is up to the Wildcats to give him that opportunity.