Campus Corner

Kansas State Q&A: No men’s basketball postseason means it’s time to look ahead

K-State guard Justin Edwards watches the final seconds tick off Thursday afternoon in the quarterfinal round of the 2016 Big 12 Men's Basketball Championship in the Sprint Center. Edwards had 23 points on the day. (March 10, 2016)
K-State guard Justin Edwards watches the final seconds tick off Thursday afternoon in the quarterfinal round of the 2016 Big 12 Men's Basketball Championship in the Sprint Center. Edwards had 23 points on the day. (March 10, 2016) The Wichita Eagle

Asking for questions this week reminded me of one of the best episodes of “The Simpsons” of all time: Two Bad Neighbors.

If you grew up watching the show like me, you need no explanation, but for those who have never seen the episode, allow me to share a summary. George Bush moves to Springfield and buys a house across the street from the Simpsons. Hilarity ensues. The following clip explains the tie in to this week’s K-State Q&A.

I hoped a short explanation that Bruce Weber will return as K-State’s basketball coach next season would prevent questions on the topic, but many of you (eight) still asked about it. I have explained why the Wildcats have confidence in him at length in previous blogs and Weber, himself, has promised “a good future.” Next season will decide whether he gets a pink slip or an extension.

There’s no point in re-hashing things further. Good thing we have other topics to explore. Let’s get to them.

K-State wanted to play in the postseason. There simply isn’t a good postseason option beyond the NCAA and NIT Tournaments.

The CBI and CIT both charge teams through the roof to participate, and the majority of teams in those tournaments are midmajors. The Vegas 16 tried to get teams such as K-State, Northwestern, North Carolina State and Boise State to play, and they all listened. If one of them had committed right away, they might have all participated. But no one, including K-State, wanted to get stuck in a field without any other power teams. The tournament ended up with eight teams.

I hope the tournament grows and prospers in the future, but it would have been silly to play in a tournament with those teams.

The Wildcats are also beat up. Kamau Stokes is out, Wesley Iwundu walks with a medical boot on his ankle between games, Bruce Weber keeps saying his freshmen are tired and have hit walls. Extra games and practice would be beneficial, and they were ready to put in extra work, just not for a postseason tournament few know about. When was the last time a team from a power conference played in the CBI and it worked out for them? Texas, Colorado, Texas A&M and Pittsburgh have all participated, and they have all been laughed at for doing so.

Better to call it a season, in most cases.

K-State will travel to Europe in August for a series of exhibition games and get extra practice time then. With that trip already on the books, K-State decided a 33-game season was enough.

Optimism. Pass it on.

This is a good point. While I think KenPom is a tad overrated, you can’t achieve a top 50 ranking if you’re terrible. K-State has the sixth-best ranking of any team outside the NCAA Tournament. This season wasn’t the dumpster fire some have made it out to be. The Wildcats mostly beat the teams they were supposed to beat and mostly lost as underdogs, which gives us some truly crazy numbers.

K-State was 15-1 against teams that missed the NCAA Tournament and 2-15 against teams that made the NCAA Tournament. When was the last time you saw that?

The expectation will be 20 victories, a return to the NCAA Tournament and a winning Big 12 record.

Bruce Weber blew everything up last season and built a new foundation this season. On paper, K-State could be much improved next season. Pressure will be on.

You’ve come to the right place. I projected K-State to win 16 games in the preseason and it ended up winning 17. Now that I’ve adequately patted myself on the back, I shall answer your question.

The crystal ball is a little fuzzier looking ahead to next season. The team should be quite a bit better on paper, with Kamau Stokes recovering from injury and Xavier Sneed joining the mix. Justin Edwards will be missed, but his scoring shouldn’t be that hard to replace. Stephen Hurt never offered much other than a big body. If Dean Wade, Barry Brown, Wesley Iwundu and D.J. Johnson all improve this summer, this team will be back in the NCAA Tournament next season.

If one of those players (paging Mr. Iwundu) can average 15 points, the Wildcats could be really good. They return most of their roster, while other Big 12 teams lose valuable seniors.

This group reminds of Texas A&M. Billy Kennedy went 71-61 in his first four seasons without a single trip to the NCAA Tournament. The Aggies lost close games left and right and finished near the bottom of the conference standings three years in a row. Some wanted Kennedy gone. But A&M’s patience paid off this season with a 26-8 record and a SEC championship.

I don’t see that much improvement on the horizon, but a big step forward is possible. It just relies on a lot of ifs.

K-State will need to learn how to win close games. Bruce Weber claims the Wildcats were four or five possessions away from the NCAA Tournament this season. But that’s the case for 100 teams. Does he have the coaching chops to swing those game-changing plays in K-State’s favor? It couldn’t win back-to-back conference games this year.

I would like to see the complete schedule before making a full prediction. For now, we know K-State will play in the Barclays Center Classic with Boston College, Maryland and Richmond. It will also play at Saint Louis and take on Colorado State in Denver. Last time I checked, the Wildcats were still trying to find someone to play in Kansas City (possibly a midmajor at this point). Then there’s the Big 12/SEC Challenge. And, of course, the Big 12.

For now, my guess is K-State repeats its nonconference record of 11-2 and goes 10-8 in the Big 12. A record of 21-10 before the Big 12 Tournament will likely be enough to get them back to the Big Dance.

I feel confident projecting K-State’s 2016-17 starting lineup right now.

1. Kamau Stokes

2. Barry Brown

3. Wesley Iwundu

4. Dean Wade

5. D.J. Johnson

Xavier Sneed, a four-star recruit from St. Louis, may challenge Brown for a starting spot. At the least, he should help K-State at shooting guard and small forward off the bench. Cartier Diarra will need to play immediately at the point (or Carlbe Ervin will need to seriously improve). And Isaiah Maurice/Dante Williams will need to get healthy and contribute. If the Wildcats can add a graduate transfer or a freshman big with skill, that will help.

John Currie chose Bruce Weber over Brad Underwood four years ago and twice extended Weber’s contract after hiring him. Much to the chagrin of some K-State fans, Underwood could win the national championship with Stephen F. Austin, and it wouldn’t impact Weber’s status in any way.

He will be a candidate at TCU. Underwood is currently winning at a school in the Lone Star State and he has won in the Big 12 as a K-State assistant. I don’t have any inside knowledge on what TCU plans to do in its search, but I imagine Underwood is at or near the top of the list. I guess the question is: How much interest does Underwood have in the job?

The Horned Frogs have been the Big 12’s worst basketball team since joining the league, and it may not be all that easy to win in Fort Worth. Trent Johnson won everywhere else he coached, then stunk it up at TCU. Then again, TCU just renovated its arena and you get to recruit to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. The job has potential.

Oklahoma State, should it part ways with Travis Ford (as expected), could be another suitor. But he would face more competition for the Cowboys. Some suspect Buzz Williams might have interest in the job. And T. Boone Pickens might encourage the school to make a run at Gregg Marshall. Doug Gottlieb is available too!

I could also see Underwood winning at UNLV or Memphis (if it opens).

He will almost certainly jump somewhere. He has been too good at Stephen F. Austin to stay there another year.

This is truly a great question. Both would cause tremendous levels of K-State Twitter meltdown.

It might not even be a hypothetical question. Both could happen, and we would get our answer.

For now, I’m picking Underwood joining a rival Big 12 team by a slim margin. K-State fans don’t want to see KU win it all, but they really don’t want to see another former K-State coach in their league. I mean, aren’t Lon Kruger and Bob Huggins enough? It would be like Missouri passing on Bill Self, only to see him end up at Kansas.

I don’t see any obvious transfers on the roster, but this is college basketball and seemingly every team has at least one transfer. So we might see someone leave.

But nothing like last year.

Maybe Ron Freeman or Isaiah Maurice or Dante Williams (one of the freshmen that saw little or no action this season) will look elsewhere. But that’s pure speculation. I think K-State’s core players will be back.

Foster, and it might not be close. If we learned anything from his time at K-State, it’s that he will take as many shots as he needs to get his. In Creighton’s offense, I could see him averaging as many as 18 points. Iwundu should score more next season, but he’s not going to average big numbers without an outside shot.

That being said, I think Iwundu will be the better all-around player. He should be one of the best defenders in the Big 12 next season, and he mixes in assists and rebounds, unlike Foster.

Jesse Ertz should be good to go during spring football. His rehabilitation process went very smoothly.

They are off to a 10-5 start, which is solid. Looks like they have good starting pitchers and some hitters at the top of the lineup. Would have been nice had they held on against Oregon State early, but they are doing some good things. Josh Rolette was just named Big 12 Newcomer of the Week. That’s nice.

It seems like they are searching for one more quality starter and a few more bats. If Brad Hill can develop depth and keep winning at home this month, the Wildcats will enter Big 12 play with a realistic shot at middle-tear conference finish and the NCAA Tournament.

I suspect the Big 12 may have bigger expansion targets in mind than the ones currently being discussed. I won’t be shocked if the conference pulls a Big Ten this summer and announces that it has formed an expansion committee and hopes to expand at a future date, allowing disgruntled teams from other conferences to reach them through back channels the way Nebraska went after the Big Ten.

Or maybe they stay at 10 schools. If they are waiting on information from consultants, they will probably do whatever those consultants advise.

Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett

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