For a coach who promotes daily competition, the end of last season was difficult on Bruce Weber. Though Kansas State made it back to the NCAA Tournament, its roster wasn’t healthy enough to properly prepare for the postseason.
“We couldn’t go five-on-five that last month because we didn’t have any of our big guys,” Weber says. “They played in games, but they didn’t practice. Our scout squad got a lot of action.”
The result: A 20-win season that exceeded most expectations ended with a whimper. The Wildcats lost their final four games, including a 56–49 setback to Kentucky in the Round of 64 in the NCAA Tournament.
A better fate is expected this season. Marcus Foster, Wesley Iwundu, Thomas Gipson and Nino Williams form a talented nucleus. And a group of promising newcomers, led by Maine transfer Justin Edwards and freshman Malek Harris, appears poised to replace the loss of only one full-time starter.
“The best thing is the competitiveness of it all,” Weber says. “They have to come every day and earn minutes. If they aren’t working in practice, there is somebody else there. We didn’t have that last year.”
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K-State will have a new — and bigger — look inside. Instead of spreading the floor with four guards with Gipson down on the block all by himself, the Wildcats will use multiple big men this season. Gipson, who averaged 11.7 points and led the team in both rebounding (6.5 rpg) and field goal shooting (.562), will remain the leader of the group, but he will have much more support and the freedom to play both power forward and center.
Stephen Hurt, a highly regarded junior college transfer, and Georgetown transfer Brandon Bolden will add much-needed size. Hurt had a promising start to his college career at Lipscomb, and the 6-11, 260-pounder is eager to return to Division I action after a stop at Northwestern Florida State College. Bolden hasn’t scored in a live game since high school, but the 6-11 shot-blocker will bring both athleticism and defense to the floor.
Williams, an undersized power forward, had some big moments last year, including 15 points in a win over Oklahoma State and 20 points in an overtime loss to Baylor. Reserve forward/center D.J. Johnson will also try to build on his promising finish to his sophomore season.
Kansas State Facts & Figures
Last season: 20-13, 10-8 Big 12
Postseason: NCAA round of 64
Consecutive NCAA appearances: 5
Coach: Bruce Weber (47-21 at Kansas State, 10-8 Big 12)
Big 12 Projection: Fifth
Postseason Projection: NCAA Round of 32
Foster was one of the biggest surprises in college basketball last season. A lightly regarded recruit, the Texas native emerged as Kansas State’s No. 1 option on offense as a freshman and led the team with a 15.5-point average.
Don’t be surprised, however, if Edwards becomes the Wildcats’ leading scorer this season. The 6-4 Canadian, regarded as an outstanding athlete and a prodigious dunker, averaged 16.7 points as a sophomore at Maine two years ago. On the flip side, he only shot 27.3 percent from 3-point range and averaged 4.0 turnovers.
Foster and Edwards are natural shooting guards, which could make it tough to play them both at the same time for long stretches without a true point guard on the court. Foster has worked hard on his ball-handling in the offseason in an effort to help Nigel Johnson and Jevon Thomas at the point.
Iwundu and Harris, both 6-7, will both play significant minutes. Iwundu started in 32 games as a freshman and scored in double figures on eight occasions. Harris was a top-100 national recruit who might also see time at the 4.
Kansas State hasn’t advanced past the NCAA Tournament’s round of 64 since 2012 and hasn’t reached the Sweet 16 since 2010. Both those streaks could come to an end this season if things fall into place. The Wildcats have talent, depth and versatility. That combination doesn’t always add up to success. Team chemistry is never a given, and adjusting to new lineups can be difficult.
Still, K-State has a roster ready to compete for a Big 12 championship and to win in March.
“It’s going to be about coming together,” Foster says. “Everybody is so good. All of these guys have already played college basketball before. We won’t be going through a learning experience like we did last year. It will just be about meshing as a team.”
Justin Edwards, a Maine transfer, was a star in practice last year. Brandon Bolden, a 6-11 Georgetown transfer, is already ready to contribute after a year off. Junior college transfer Stephen Hurt will provide much-needed size, while freshman guard Tre Harris should help as a shooter. Malek Harris, a late addition, is the highest-rated recruit Bruce Weber has signed since coming to K-State.