On the eve of No. 18 Kansas State’s visit to the WVU Coliseum, let’s get to know the Wildcats:
1. Bruce Weber’s the man on the bench.
Fired at Illinois last spring, Weber recovered quickly to land a premium job when Frank Martin surprisingly left K-State for South Carolina. Some Wildcats fans weren’t thrilled to see their program turn to a guy so freshly pushed out of his previous post, but Weber is a top-flight coach.
“He’s a winner, he’s been to a national championship game, he’s been national coach of the year, and he knows his stuff about basketball — why not buy in?” said K-State’s star guard Rodney McGruder. “He’s developed pros and hopefully I’ll be the next one he develops.”
Martin’s famous scowling stare wasn’t just an act — his intensity became legendary, especially during practice. On a preseason visit to Manhattan, Kan., I could sense the players warming to Weber and his, shall we say, less-punishing personality.
“Bruce is kind of laid-back, where Frank was on you all the time in practice,” said McGruder, adding that the foul language . “If you made a pass that he didn’t think was a ‘game pass,’ even if it got through, he’d get on you.”
Kansas State (12-2, 1-0) at West Virginia (8-6, 1-1) WHEN: Saturday, 1:30 p.m. TV: Big 12 Network RADIO: MetroNews coverage starts at 12:30 p.m.
Guard Will Spradling likened the coaching transition to “a weight that’s been lifted off your back,” saying he’s no longer pressing as much.
“If we made a mistake last year we’re on the line and we’re running and we’re in trouble,” Spradling said. “This year if we make a mistake, it’s like, ‘We’re going to get it right, and we’re going to take as many reps as we need.’
“Last year there was a lot of times where I would play not to make a mistake because I wanted to stay on the floor,”
2. McGruder’s the man on the court.
K-State’s 6-foot-4 senior guard may be the best all-around player in the Big 12. Last week’s 28-point effort against Oklahoma State, with 26 coming in the second half, certainly highlighted his scoring ability as the Wildcats acclimate to Weber’s motion offense.
“He gives us the opportunity to play,” said McGruder, who’s scoring 14.7 points per game, the only Wildcat player in double figures. “It’s free motion, cutting and screening, people creating off one another and for another.”
Weber called McGruder “the face of the program” and lauded his dedication and drive, though he said sometimes the player must learn to keep his high-revving motor in check.
“You’ve got to play hard, but you don’t have go fast all the time,” Weber said. “Basketball’s played at different speeds. It’s a game of balance, angles, space, and if you’r always under control you have a much better chance.
“Rodney wants to go shard, but you can’t always go at that same speed. Sometimes there’s people there, there’s a wall there and you’ve got to go through the door. He wants to go so hard, but he’s learning that you can do things without going 100 miles-per-hour.”
3. The pieces are there for an NCAA run.
Along with a standout player, the Wildcats boast a quality point guard (Angel Rodriguez has a 2-to-1 turnover/assist ratio), a team that scraps on the boards (second in the Big 1 rebounding margin) and the program’s single-season record-holder in blocks (Jordan Henriquez, who’s playing off the bench).
Yet McGruder said K-State isn’t simply aiming for an invite to the NCAA tournament.
“That’s settling for nothing, I believe,” McGruder said. “A lot of teams make it to the tournament, and it doesn’t really prove anything.”