In a weeklong countdown based on the preseason coaches poll, MetroNews previews the basketball teams of the Big 12 …
Kansas State last season: 22-11 (10-8 Big 12); 44 RPI
On the bench: Bruce Weber (313-155) was fired by Illinois on March 9 and hired three weeks later at K-State, where the popular and half-maniacal Frank Martin stunningly left for South Carolina.
“Even though there is a new coach, a new system, and a new staff, you have a group that has been together,” Weber said. “Guys that have logged a lot of minutes and produced in big games, but even beyond those three you have a lot of other people that played minutes. So you feel good that you are not starting over.”
Who’s gone: Top rebounder Jamar Samuels (10.0 points, 6.6 rebounds) finished his career as the winningest senior in K-State history with 96 victories.
Who’s back: Senior guard Rodney McGruder (15.8 ppg, 5.2 rig) was a unanimous pick for the preseason All-Big 12 team and figures to be a solid NBA prospect.
Jordan Henriquez (7.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg), a 6-11 senior who owns the Wildcats’ career and single-season record for block shots, is more of a put-back scorer as opposed to a low-post threat. Forward Thomas Gipson (7.0 pg, 4.7 rig) returns after making 22 starts as a freshman, though the 6-10 Adrian Diaz (3.2 ppg, 2.3 rpg) has been the starter at power forward in both exhibition games.
Point guard Angel Rodriguez (8.3 ppg, 3.3 apt) and Will Spradling (9.3 ppg, 2.7 apt) are the starters, with Martavious Irving (5.5 ppg, 35 percent on 3-pointers) providing grit and points off the bench.
Who’s new: The biggest preseason development has been 6-8 freshman D.J. Johnson. Weber said he initially expected to redshirt the “happy warrior,” but after back-to-back 17-point exhibition outings, the coach said Johnson “has kind of taken that out of our thought.”
Nonconference schedule: The Wildcats are among the big boys — joining Pitt, Michigan and Virginia — in the NIT Season Tip-Off field. K-State later faces Gonzaga in Seattle and Florida in Kansas City.
Postseason prognosis: After the success Martin enjoyed in Manhattan, anything less than a couple NCAA Tournament wins will give Weber’s critics room to complain. The players, however, seem to have embraced Weber’s less-abrasive coaching style and should flourish once they grow comfortable with his motion offense.
“When Coach first came here, he said the success of the team depends on the seniors,” McGruder said. “We have to buy into what he is preaching to us. As long as we buy in and go out and play as hard as we can, only the best can come out of it.”