With Angel Rodriguez coming back as a junior, Kansas State appeared poised to return to the NCAA Tournament and finish in the top three of the Big 12 standings next season.
Now that the talented point guard has announced his intentions to transfer, the Wildcats’ streak of four straight NCAA Tournament appearances is in jeopardy. There is no telling where they will finish in a weakened Big 12, but they are clearly a tier below league favorites Oklahoma State and Kansas.
Nothing separates them from Iowa State, Baylor and Oklahoma, which also lose the bulk of their talent and experience after runs to the postseason.
In Rodriguez, K-State loses a two-year starter who averaged 11.4 points and 5.2 assists on a team that won 27 games and shared the Big 12 championship. He would have been one of the top returning players in the conference, and one of the top point guards in the country.
Now, the only returning guard with significant playing time under his belt is Will Spradling. He may have to take over point guard duties, at least initially until recently committed Nigel Johnson transitions to the college game and Jevon Thomas becomes eligible after the first semester. Shane Southwell looks like K-State’s top returning player after averaging 8.4 points as a junior, but his improved season came as a hybrid power forward. He might have to move back to guard or small forward.
Fortunately for coach Bruce Weber, Thomas Gipson shouldn’t face much of a transition in the post coming off an above-average sophomore season. But will he play beside D.J. Johnson in a big lineup with Neville Fincher and Nino Williams coming off the bench? Or will Williams start at power forward while Johnson comes off the bench?
Omari Lawrence also figures to receive increased playing time now. The senior has done little at K-State, but he showed flashes at times last season. Could he be in the conversation to start at small forward or shooting guard?
And we haven’t even factored in Marcus Foster and Wesley Iwundu yet. Foster, the Texas 3A player of the year, looks like the top incoming recruit. His high school coach has said he is capable of playing anywhere from point guard to forward. He may start right away, but where? At 6-foot-7, Iwundu has the capabilities to play inside or out. He can handle the ball, distribute to teammates and drive to the basket. His shot needs some work, but he could help at several positions, too.
Trying to predict a starting lineup out of all that is difficult, but I’m going to try.
Let’s assume Spradling, Southwell and Gipson will be in the starting five. That leaves, in my mind, four main options.
Option 1: Small and Experienced
1. Will Spradling