Who is the most underrated player on the Kansas State basketball team?
Barry Brown and Dean Wade were asked that question a few weeks ago, and they answered without hesitation.
Their choice: Makol Mawien. In their minds, no one on the K-State roster puts in more time behind the scenes or does as much dirty work as the team’s starting center. They thought he deserved more credit, calling him the team’s unsung hero.
But that was before he slipped into a slump. Mawien’s production has cratered over the past three games. The junior big man scored a grand total of two points against Texas A&M, Oklahoma State and Kansas. His playing time has also evaporated, because of foul trouble. He hasn’t topped 20 minutes in a game since Jan. 22.
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His teammates still have confidence in Mawien, but he could provide the Wildcats with a big boost if he can snap out of his slump starting against Baylor on Saturday.
“He gives you an inside presence,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “He can block some shots, he can score around the hoop, his rebounding is good and … when you get the other guys playing well Makol obviously adds to that mix.”
K-State managed to beat Oklahoma State and Kansas without much help from Mawien, but the Wildcats would rather not test that formula much longer. At his best, Mawien helps on both ends of the court. He is the team’s best post defender and has had his moments on offense. When he’s merely good, K-State can usually count on eight points and five rebounds from him.
If he can figure out how to avoid fouls, odds are good he will soon return to his previous form. He can’t do much of anything when he fouls out in six minutes, the way he did against West Virginia earlier this season, or lasts just nine minutes against KU.
Wade thinks he can provide some pointers. He was extremely foul prone as a freshman and grew out of it. Now he’s rarely ever in foul trouble.
“Instead of thinking, don’t foul and getting stuck in bad spots he just needs to play aggressive,” Wade said, “like in those early games against Vanderbilt. He was aggressive everywhere. The mistakes he made were aggressive mistakes, mistakes that we can cover for. Right now, he just needs to keep his confidence and stay aggressive and not let this get to him.”
Weber thinks Mawien is heading in the right direction. He said poor practices led to poor games against Texas A&M and Oklahoma State, but he had much more energy and focus for the Jayhawks.
But he got in early foul trouble. With better luck, he might have had better game.
“We just tell him he has to have a motor,” Weber said. “He has got to be aggressive. He was ready for (Dedric) Lawson. I thought when he did get to play he was aggressive and tried to challenge him.”
Mawien will face a new test against the Bears. Baylor’s tallest starter, Mario Kegler, is only 6-foot-7 and likes to bring his defender out on the perimeter. If he struggles, Weber won’t hesitate to go with a small lineup of his own.
But the Wildcats hope it doesn’t come to that. They are confident their most underrated player is up for the challenge.