Campus Corner

Kansas State mailbag: A closer look Bruce Weber’s coaching history

K-State head coach Bruce Weber was frantic during the final seconds of the first half of a game against Texas.
K-State head coach Bruce Weber was frantic during the final seconds of the first half of a game against Texas. The Wichita Eagle

It’s time for another K-State Q&A.

We had a record number of questions this week. So many that I can’t answer them all here (15 is the limit). Sorry if yours didn’t make the cut. Let’s get right to it.

This question has long been the No. 1 fear for Kansas State fans displeased with Bruce Weber. He had a great run with the Illini (210-101 in nine seasons), winning two Big Ten championships and going 37-2 in 2005. Of course, his best achievements occurred early on while he was coaching teams assembled by Bill Self. His final seven seasons were much more average, with Illinois advancing to four NCAA Tournaments and recording five 20-win seasons. He was ultimately fired in 2012 for failing to reach the Sweet 16 in seven straight seasons.

The change in fortunes seemed to forever change after his third season. He won 26 games in 2004, 37 games in 2005 and 26 games in 2006. That’s an average of nearly 30 wins. He didn’t win more than 24 games in any season afterward. He averaged 20 wins from then on with one losing record.

Now that we’ve covered the background, let’s compare that run to his start at K-State. His best success came in Year One, going 27-8 and sharing a Big 12 championship behind Rodney McGruder, Angel Rodriguez and a team entirely made up of Frank Martin recruits. John Currie hired Weber to keep that roster together and win immediately, and Weber did exactly that. Outstanding work on his part, aside from the NCAA Tournament. K-State dropped to 20 wins last season, but that was viewed as a success with Weber’s youngest recruits showing promise. K-State appears on its way to a losing record in his third year, and his recruits are no longer looking so promising.

Is that a hiccup in what could otherwise by a successful run with the Wildcats? Or is it a sign of things to come?

No one has the answers yet. Weber’s best seasons at Southern Illinois came in years four and five. So he doesn’t always fade. And his teams at Illinois were never dumpster fires (210 wins in nine years would translate to the third most successful coach at K-State), though a 2-11 finish in his final season might qualify.

So much depends on what his sophomores can do moving forward. Marcus Foster and Wesley Iwundu looked like the future of K-State basketball a year ago. Can they regain that form and build on it as upperclassmen? Have they already hit their ceilings? Will they transfer? Can he recruit quality players to add support?

All we can really say right now is that he will experience highs and lows at both Illinois and K-State.

The most concerning thing about this season is that the two players Weber has leaned on most are Nino Williams and Thomas Gipson, the only two Martin recruits on the roster. They are the two most dependable players he has. Of course, they are also the only seniors on the roster. So they should be more dependable than sophomores and transfers, because they know more about the college game.

To answer your question, though, I think Weber has done a poor job managing expectations with his players. Justin Edwards, Stephen Hurt, Foster and Iwundu all came to K-State feeling overlooked by bigger programs with something to prove. Foster and Iwundu played that way last season and found success. This year, outsiders gave them both credit and their drive seemed to disappear. They hit sophomore walls instead of freshman walls. Edwards got way too much hype (from Foster) in the preseason and has not scored the way some thought he would. Weber simply does not know how to use Hurt. Weber never taught any of them how to handle success.

Weber went nuclear on his players following the TCU loss, saying “I just want guys that care. That is all I want, guys that care and want to play for K-State and want to play to win and will play hard.” It’s hard to go beyond the nuclear option, so maybe he will change his tune and blame himself next time.

For the record, I understand why Weber said what he did. K-State appeared lifeless in the first half against TCU, and that has happened too often this season. Look at K-State’s worst efforts: at Long Beach State, vs. Pittsburgh, at Tennessee, vs. Texas Southern, vs. Georgia, at Texas Tech and at TCU. Those are some awful losses that could have been avoided by playing with maximum effort. The team can beat Baylor, Purdue, Oklahoma (twice) and Oklahoma State and it played Arizona tough, because it was up for those games. It lost to bad teams, because it was down for them.

But you should not have to be preaching effort to a Big 12 team this far into a season. That’s on Weber as much as it is on his players. It will be interesting to see what it takes for him to acknowledge that.

We were only allowed to speak with Nino Williams and Brian Rohleder after the TCU game, and they both appeared healthy. Their pride suffered undiagnosed damage. Still waiting on test results. It’s hard to say exactly how much weight the bus driven by Weber carried.

In the words of Twitter Tuesday creator Sam Mellinger, that’s not bad.

He won a piece of K-State’s first conference title since 1977 and won more games in his first two years than any other Wildcats coach. That will buy him time to work past this. Plus, this team has capabilities of being good. You don’t beat five teams currently projected to make the NCAA Tournament if you’re awful. If K-State could have taken care of some of the lesser opponents on its schedule it would be a vastly different season.

Many, many times. He has switched starting lineups from game to game and half to half all season.

From a story I wrote I earlier this week: None of K-State’s players have started in every game this season. A mixture of injuries, suspensions and inconsistencies have left K-State coach Bruce Weber trying something new during many games. Four players — Thomas Gipson, Jevon Thomas, Nigel Johnson and Justin Edwards — have made it on the court for all 26 games. That limited rotation has led to 11 starting lineups, five leading scorers and a sub .500 record.

I don’t think their issues are as large as some think. Foster earned himself a three-game suspension and Weber is not going to start him until he earns his way back into the lineup. Maybe hitting the game winner against Oklahoma should have put him there. Maybe not. But jacking up threes against TCU sent him back to the bench. Weber wants Foster to be a complete player, like he was a year ago when he went for dunks and mid-range shots, instead of the three-point specialist he is trying to be.

They have Barry Brown coming in next year and the staff is actively evaluating other point guard options to use, potentially, as early as next season. My guess is they will try to recruit over Jevon Thomas and Nigel Johnson rather than hope for development.

K-State fans should brace for transfers. It’s too early to predict who will leave and who will stay, but after what Weber had to say at TCU there will almost certainly be roster deflections.

You’re really putting my crystal ball to work on that one, but here goes: Barry Brown, Marcus Foster, Justin Edwards, Stephen Hurt, D.J. Johnson.

It is amazing that this question is being asked. Weber has 60 wins in less than three seasons. Wooldridge had 83 wins in six seasons. Yet, I’m sure there are K-State fans who liked Wooldridge better and he could end up with a longer tenure. You never know.

If K-State finished with .500 record or better, it could land in the NIT. There is no rule that says you can’t play in the NIT with a losing record, but that hasn’t happened in many years. So, basically, K-State will need to post a winning record in its final four games, plus the Big 12 Tournament, to have a shot at the postseason. That won’t be easy with upcoming games against Baylor, Kansas, Iowa State and Texas. Even then the Wildcats would be on the bubble. Let’s give them a 25 percent shot at getting a NIT berth.

Believe it or not, there are a few sites that track this stuff. Here’s one. Here’s another.

I wouldn’t pay much attention to them, though. I have actually asked some K-State folks about the possibility of accepting an invitation to the CBI or the CIT. There is no interest.

Baseball season is off to a pretty good start for the BatCats. They are 3-2 with victories over Iowa, Pittsburgh and Utah. They finish out a round of games in Arizona this weekend. Wish I was out there watching them. Gotta admit, heading West to some warm weather and baseball sounds amazing right now.

Reach Kellis Robinett at krobinett@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @kellisrobinett.

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