If you liked Kansas State’s basketball team last year, there’s a good chance you will love the Wildcats this season.
Barry Brown is back. So is Dean Wade. And they will be surrounded by the same starting lineup they teamed up with on the way to 25 victories and the Elite Eight last March. Bruce Weber is getting the band back together, and expectations are high.
It’s been a long time since Kansas State was projected to earn a preseason ranking and contend for a Big 12 championship. But the Wildcats appear to have the talent and experience to do exactly that.
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Bruce Weber
2017-18 RECORD (BIG 12): 25-12 (10-8)
2017-18 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to Loyola-Chicago 78-62 in the Elite Eight
G Amaad Wainright (2.8 ppg)
K-State won three games in the NCAA Tournament with little help from Wade, who was sidelined for all but eight minutes of the postseason with a foot injury. The senior forward was the team’s best overall player throughout the regular season. Wade averaged a team-high 16.2 points and 6.2 rebounds while shooting 55.0 percent from the field (including 44.0 from 3) and 75.2 percent from the line. The 6'10" native of St. John, Kan., is a legitimate Big 12 Player of the Year candidate.
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Makol Mawien will join Wade down low. The one-time junior college transfer had moments of brilliance as a sophomore, but his production varied from game to game because of foul trouble. Weber praised Mawien’s work ethic over the summer, but he will need to find consistency as a junior.
Newcomer Austin Trice should make a big impact in his first season. Kansas State was the worst rebounding team in the Big 12 last year, and Weber recruited Trice specifically to address that problem. Trice, a 6'7" forward, averaged 12.6 points and 12.1 rebounds at Wabash Valley (Ill.) College and will be expected to crash the boards in the Big 12.
Brown thought about turning pro, but after working out for the Los Angeles Lakers and the Brooklyn Nets, he decided to return to K-State for his senior year. That’s excellent news for the Wildcats, who get their top defender and locker room leader back for one more season.
Brown was one of the best guards in the Big 12 last season, averaging 15.9 points and 3.2 assists while splitting time at both guard positions. He can improve his NBA Draft stock and help K-State this season by improving his 3-point shot. Few teams could prevent Brown from scoring near the basket last year, but it was a different story behind the arc, where he shot only 31.8 percent.
It will be far from a one-man show in the backcourt. Kamau Stokes, a three-year starter, appears ready to get back to his top form after playing through foot injuries last year. Cartier Diarra started 22 games as a redshirt freshman and should build off that experience as a sophomore. And don’t overlook Mike McGuirl. Though he played sparingly as a freshman, he was the hero of K-State’s win over Creighton in the Round of 64. It will be interesting to see what Weber decides to do at point guard this season.
There is no mystery on the wing. Xavier Sneed will own that position as a junior. His stock has soared since the NCAA Tournament, where he led K-State past Kentucky with 22 points and nine rebounds. Weber wants Sneed to improve his outside shot, but there is nothing wrong with the rest of his game.
On paper, this should be Weber’s best team since arriving in Manhattan six years ago. All the pieces are in place for a memorable season, but matching expectations is rarely easy. The Wildcats went 0–7 against the best three teams in the Big 12 last season. Improving in that area could be a key factor.
Postseason Prediction: Sweet 16
Big 12 Prediction: 2nd