One of the most telling statistics of Kansas State’s current five-game losing streak is its scoring average.
The Wildcats have averaged 58.4 points during the skid, failing to score 60 points three times and falling short of 50 once. It came as no surprise that a 76-72 loss at West Virginia on Wednesday was the most competitive game of the month, because they found ways to score easily in transition.
Offensive production has haunted K-State lately, especially during crunch time. Slowing things down with Bruce Weber’s motion offense has kept the majority of games close, but that strategy hasn’t resulted in victory since Jan. 24.
“One victory would be great,” senior forward Nino Williams said. “We haven’t won in five games, so it would be amazing. It would be a big boost and a confidence booster.”
This is not how Weber envisioned things going. He thought he had enough athleticism, depth and fire power to push the ball. Weber envisioned high-flying dunks and uncontested layups at the season’s outset. He wasn’t bold enough to turn them into the Runnin’ Cats, but he wanted to play fast.
Early on, that’s exactly what he got. K-State averaged 71.4 points in its first 11 games, scoring as many points as 98 against Southern Utah, 88 against Purdue and 68 against highly ranked Arizona. The results were good. The Wildcats started 7-4. Then things took a dramatic turn when the Wildcats scored 56 points in a last-second loss to Texas Southern. Suddenly, K-State resembled Princeton more than runners and gunners. It has averaged 58.6 points since, going 5-9 and falling below .500 in February for the first time since 2004.
Overall, K-State ranks ninth in the Big 12 in scoring. Weber is aware of the data, and he would like to run more.
“When we can steal some baskets,” Weber said, “it helps us.”
Still, don’t expect K-State to begin regularly topping 70 points.
“We tried to run and what did we do?” Weber said. “We threw it to the band. We threw it to you guys. We threw it to everyone else. I had to (make a change). … Our biggest problem is not the initial fast break. It’s the in-between, when there is nothing there and it is three-on-three-and-a-half, or four-on-five. It is making the smart decision not to go in there and move the ball in space.
“That is where we just (struggled). That is why we really started to control things. I wanted to get a shot off every possession.”
He felt like he had no choice.
“We had so many turnovers in the first half (against Georgia) that I was like, ‘Hey, people are yelling. I’m yelling. We have got to do something,’ ” Weber said. “So at the beginning of the year we thought we had the athletes to run. We could use ball screens and spread people out. We just didn’t make the right decisions, so we tried to control it.”
The slower approach has worked in spurts. By emphasizing smart shots and defense, the Wildcats won five of six conference games, including a 66-63 victory at No. 17 Oklahoma, which they will again face Saturday at Bramlage Coliseum.
K-State averaged more than 63 points during that stretch, getting consistent scoring from Williams and Marcus Foster. Part of its recent drop can be explained by an injury to Williams, which knocked him out of one game and limited him in others, and the suspension of Foster. Perhaps having both of them in the lineup together — Williams is healthy and sources say Foster is once again an active member of the team — will boost production against Oklahoma.
Studying the Sooners might help, too.
“Oklahoma is so good at it,” Weber said. “They have got five guys who can dribble. They get in the paint and they kick it. Sooner or later somebody breaks down, and then they get an open shot or a drive.”
Even a moderate scoring boost would help K-State as the season comes to an end.
“If you get a rebound, push it and go,” Weber said, “but you don’t have to go in (to defended areas). They think they have to make a play every possession, every time they touch it, and you can’t. Sometimes there are people there. Now, if you watch the film from the first (Oklahoma game), Jevon (Thomas) got into the paint a few times and got it to people. He dropped it to Justin (Edwards) for a dunk. He got it to Marcus for a three. Those are the kinds of plays we need.”