Bruce Weber draws inspiration from Texas Tech’s Final Four run
The longer Xavier Sneed deliberated about his basketball future this week, the longer Kansas State fans worried about what the Wildcats might have looked like next year without him.
It wasn’t a pretty picture.
The Wildcats would have been staring at a potential rebuilding project without Sneed. Bruce Weber would have lost much more than the 10.6 points and 5.5 rebounds that Sneed averaged as a junior last season. He also would have lost a versatile athlete with size capable of playing both forward positions, as well as a senior leader.
Without Sneed, the Wildcats would have lost their top four scorers from a team that won 25 games and shared a Big 12 championship with Texas Tech. They would have returned 21.6 points per game and one player (Makol Mawien) who finished last season in the starting lineup.
Things were getting understandably tense for everyone who follows K-State basketball as the college withdrawal deadline for the NBA Draft approached Wednesday night and Sneed remained undecided. But a collective sigh of relief came at 9:19 p.m. when Sneed announced on social media that he was returning to Manhattan and ready to lead the Wildcats as a senior.
“Obviously we are thrilled to know that Xavier will be part of our basketball program for his senior season,” Weber said. “He has the ability to be not only the best swing man in the Big 12, but also in the nation. There is no doubt that he will be our team leader. From my conversations with him, I believe the NBA experience has been a valuable one for him. We have received positive feedback from several NBA scouts about his upside and his future. I know that he will use these experiences to help motivate himself to continue his development as a player, have a special senior season and leave a positive legacy in our program.”
Replacing Barry Brown, Kamau Stokes and Dean Wade is a tall order, but it’s possible with Sneed in the fold, ready to anchor a roster that features four returning players with starting experience.
The hope is that Sneed will flourish as the team’s go-to player and that K-State will be back in the NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight year.
It’s not hard to envision Sneed maturing into an all-conference player as a senior. After years of operating in the shadows of Brown, Stokes and Wade the spotlight will now be on him. Some of his best games have come when Stokes or Wade were injured and Weber asked more of him. Remember his Sweet 16 performance against Kentucky (22 points, nine rebounds), or his strong effort against TCU at last year’s Big 12 Tournament (19 points, seven rebounds, five assists)?
Sneed will have the green light to take more shots next season, and if he can improve slightly from three-point range (34.6 percent) he could be one of the top scorers in the league.
The only question about Sneed is where he will play.
K-State has gone with a small lineup that features Sneed at power forward when Wade has been injured the past two years. Perhaps Weber will decide to stick with that strategy and surround Sneed with three guards and one big.
You can go ahead and pencil Cartier Diarra and Mawien into starting roles next season. A small lineup would likely also feature Mike McGuirl at small forward and some combination of Shaun-Neal Williams, DaJuan Gordon and David Sloan at the open guard position.
But that doesn’t leave much, if any, depth behind Sneed at power forward or McGuirl at small forward.
Incoming freshmen Montavious Murphy and Antonio Gordon have the ability to step in and play the four, but they lack experience. Levi Stockard seems ready for more minutes, but he plays the same position as Mawien.
An outside-the-box idea: Weber could move Mawien to power forward and play him alongside Stockard at center. Mawien played the four before he arrived at K-State and has a decent outside shot. Perhaps he is best suited to play there when the Wildcats go with a big lineup and play Sneed at small forward.
Weber will have many options to consider before the 2019-20 season begins.
That’s a good problem to have. With Sneed on the roster, K-State has the flexibility to play big or small. Without him, it probably had to go big and rely heavily on unproven players at most positions.
Replacing three key seniors won’t be easy, but it’s much simpler than replacing three key seniors and the team’s best junior.