K-State can blame a complete lack of offense for the defeat.
Strange that the Wildcats went toe-to-toe in a shootout with Iowa State at the Big 12 Tournament (falling 91-85) and then mustered just 49 points (a season low) eight days later in the NCAA Tournament.
There were many reasons for K-State’s struggles. First and foremost was Kentucky. Every member of its playing rotation stands 6 feet 6 or taller, and that length created all kinds of problems.
Open shots were hard to come by on the perimeter, and Olathe Northest graduate Willie Cauley-Stein made driving the lane difficult by blocking four shots and altering several others.
But K-State also missed the few open shots it had. Marcus Foster and Will Spradling both went one for seven from three-point range. That’s not going to cut it against a team of future NBA players.
K-State coaches were confident heading into the game. They thought K-State was quick enough to get around Kentucky defenders and find open shots. But that didn’t happen.
Coach Bruce Weber introduced some new offensive sets last week, thinking they would take Kentucky by surprise. But execution made that impossible. Foster was the team’s only consistent scorer all season, and that hurt K-State on Friday.
“On the offensive end, we didn’t get anything accomplished,” Spradling said. “We really struggled. Their length bothered us a lot more than we expected. We were pretty stagnant.”
Foster added: “Athletically, I thought they compared with Kansas, but they were much better. One through five, they are very athletic and much more physical than we thought.”
K-State coaches and players didn’t seem distraught after the loss. Maybe that’s because it was obvious they were going to lose when they fell behind by 13 in the second half. Maybe not.
Outside of walk-on Brian Rohleder, who looked inconsolable after being slapped with a bizarre technical foul for dunking in pregame warm-ups, K-State seemed content to go ahead and focus on next season.
Shane Southwell said he was “extremely proud” of what he and K-State accomplished during his time on campus. He appeared to have no regrets. Not even staring down an official and getting a technical foul against Kentucky.
“I think I will be remembered as the fresh prince and a silly guy who went crazy on the bench and on the court,” Southwell said. “On a serious note, somebody that improved every year. My first years, obviously I was just a passer, a defender maybe. But I have grown a lot in terms of making shots and being a leader. Hopefully K-State will remember me for being a winner beside the fact that I look like Will Smith.”
K-State did overachieve in some areas this season, beating Kansas, Gonzaga, Iowa State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. It also lost to Northern Colorado, started 2-3 and won just two road games. It also lost its opening game in the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year.
It will be interesting to see how K-State moves on without Southwell and Spradling. Southwell was capable of playing at high levels, but he didn’t contribute many positives near the end of his senior season. Spradling was never a great scorer, but he was K-State’s only player who fully understood Weber’s motion offense. It broke down when he wasn’t on the court. Can Nigel Johnson or Jevon Thomas step up without him next season?
If they do, K-State figures to have a lot more firepower. Maine transfer Justin Edwards and Foster will be a dynamic scoring duo on the wing. If Wesley Iwundu improves and power forward Stephen Hurt, a junior-college transfer, is as good as advertised, K-State could dramatically improve. It will have more size and scoring pop.
Maybe that will be enough to get K-State back into the round of 32.
Weber hopes that is the case. Since his run to the 2005 national title game with Illinois, he is 2-5 in the NCAA Tournament with the wins coming in 2011 against UNLV and 2006 against Fairleigh Dickinson. His overall record in the NCAA Tournament is 11-9.
“We have a good group of freshmen,” Weber said. “Jevon is going to be a heck of a player … Our group coming back, Thomas has to be our leader, with Nino (Williams), and set the example and make sure that we have a great offseason and see if we can make some strides next year. Not only get in the tournament, but go somewhere.”