Way-Too-Early 2018 Big 12 Power Rankings: #10 Kansas State Wildcats

Our projected 10th place finisher in the Big 12 next season: the Kansas State Wildcats.

Key Details

  • Outlook:
    • Kansas State surprised everyone a bit last season, finishing 6th in the Big 12, finishing 30th in the final KenPom standings, and reaching the NCAA Tournament as one of the last 4 at-large teams after being picked 9th in the preseason Big 12 poll. Before the season started, Bruce Weber was a popular name on “Coaches on the Hot Seat” articles and was not exactly well-liked among Kansas State fans. After that NCAA Tournament season, Bruce Weber is now rumored to be in line for a contract extension from the Kansas State administration and is, well, still not exactly well-liked among Kansas State fans.
    • The typical complaint against Bruce Weber is about to rear its ugly head again this season. People have varying degrees of opinions of him as an in-game coach, but there’s really no arguing what his primary weakness is. He is not a great recruiter. Kansas State’s 2017 is ranked 9th in the Big 12, according to 247Sports. They are only ranked ahead of Baylor, and that is due to Baylor only having one player signed at this time. His highest ranked incoming recruit is 3-star PF, Nigel Shadd, who is ranked 333th in the nation. There is no immediate, overwhelming talent arriving on the roster next season to help account for the losses off of last year’s team.
    • Those losses are quite big, both literally and figuratively. Do-it-all forward and potential NBA draft pick, Wesley Iwundu, has graduated and taken with him his scoring, rebounding, assists, and all-league talent. Frontcourt presence, DJ Johnson (and one of my favorites from the 2017 Big 12 season), has also graduated. Johnson was a force on the block last season, great on the offensive glass, and owner of the best free throw shooting routine in the conference. He will be missed.
    • Kansas State will return 3 starters in Kamau Stokes, Barry Brown, and Dean Wade. The assumption is that Xavier Sneed and Isaiah Maurice will step into the starting roles that Iwundu and Johnson will vacate. Sneed and Maurice had moments in their freshman seasons, but will need to take on much larger roles in their sophomore seasons.
    • I would expect Brian Patrick to have the biggest impact off the bench for the Wildcats next season. Patrick got spot minutes at times last season, recording his most minutes in a Big 12 game against West Virginia in February with 18. He scored 11 points in that game on 4-4 from the field and 3-3 from 3-point territory. In his very limited minutes last season, he shot 43% from 3 on 28 attempts. As the first perimeter player off the bench, I’d expect him to provide some nice shooting, much like Sneed did this past season.
    • Currently, I have no idea who will be the first big man off the bench for K-State. Redshirt freshman James Love, JUCO transfer Makol Mawien, and incoming freshmen Nigel Shadd and Levi Stockard are all inexperienced and unknown commodities at this point. One will have to step forward. If I had to guess, I would say Love or Mawien are the most likely. Love has a year in the program, and Mawien has D-1 experience at Utah and a full season of JUCO under his belt. They’ll have a leg up on the two freshmen right out of high school. If none out of the group step up, Weber might have to get more creative than he has done in the past and turn to a smaller lineup at times with Sneed or Patrick at the 4.
  • Potential Major Weakness: Offense/Shot Creation
    • I think Kansas State losing Wesley Iwundu is one of the more significant losses not only in the Big 12, but in the country. He did so very much for their offense, and I’m looking all over their roster, and I’m not sure how he’s going to be replaced. If we say that he started at the traditional 3 position, Xavier Sneed will step into that starting role for the Wildcats. Sneed is a promising young player with an above average shooting stroke, but that is a substantial drop-off. Sneed is not a great ball-handler, and he lacks playmaking ability. So much offense was initiated through Iwundu last season; Sneed does not have that ability.
    • That leaves the playmaking ability to junior guards Kamau Stokes and Barry Brown. Stokes and Brown are solid backcourt players. Exactly that, solid. I’m not sure there’s a more suitable word to describe their talent. Let’s break these two guys down a bit.
      • They are both average to below average shooters. According to KenPom, Stokes and Brown ranked 27th and 37th, respectively, as 3-point shooters in the Big 12 out of 43 players who qualified (must play 40% of minutes and average 2 3PAs per game). Not great, Bob.
      • Stokes had the worst 2-point FG% of all 58 qualifiers in the Big 12 at 34.8%.
      • Brown was better, but still not great inside the arc. He finished 44th out of 58 players at 46.6%.
      • Based on that data, you can obviously infer that their eFG% is similarly poor, with Brown ranking 33rd out of 38 in the league at 47.5% and Stokes ranking 35th at 45.1% (per KenPom; qualifiers must play 60% of minutes).
      • These guys aren’t great shooters, and because Bruce Weber’s offense is not exactly superb at getting them clean, open looks, they shoot a lot of tough jumpers, particularly off the dribble. Stokes is forced to do this often. There were many possessions last season when K-State’s offense would stagnate, Stokes would be stuck with the ball in his hand in a late clock high ball-screen or ISO situation and be forced to throw up a challenged 3 or long 2. This will only be exacerbated by the loss of Iwundu. He was able to get Stokes and Brown a lot of their easier looks.
      • Stokes has solid court vision and has a high assist rate, but he does tend to be turnover prone, which I think is partially due to his smaller stature at 6’0”. Last season, he had a turnover rate of 22.3%, which was the 6th worst in the Big 12 out of 61 qualifiers. He already was tied with Iwundu last season for the highest usage rate on the squad at 22.8%. I imagine he’ll be at the number still, if not higher. He’ll really need to reduce his turnovers if the K-State offense is to be effective.
      • Brown is a prototypical off-guard with both a middling assist rate and turnover rate; both were right around 15%. I’ll be interested to see if the ball will be in his hands more next season as the secondary ball handler instead of Iwundu. If so, his decision-making and efficiency will be key.
      • My guess is redshirt freshman Cartier Diarra will be asked to be the primary ball handler off the bench. It’s unclear if he will be able to handle that pressure in his first Big 12 season. If he struggles, I imagine Stokes and Brown’s minutes would be staggered in a way that one of them is always on the court to initiate offense.
    • The other reason I think the offense and shot creation could potentially be the primary issue next season is the loss of DJ Johnson. Johnson was a bruiser of a post player, with a high FG%, high FT rate, and high OR%. If Johnson wasn’t scoring on the block, he was really good at collecting those misses from Stokes and Brown. This would often result in quick putbacks or trips to the FT line. I’ll talk a bit more about Isaiah Maurice below, but he saw his playing time increase at the end of the season and will have to pick up this slack. He’s not the back-to-the-basket player that Johnson was, but he showed some signs of being an effective and explosive roll man in PnR situations. He’ll need to continue to show signs there, and have a similar OR% to Johnson to pick up that slack.
  • Player I’m Most Looking Forward to Watching: Dean Wade
    • I’m excited to write about who I deem one of the biggest enigmas in the Big 12, Dean Wade. Wade has a lot of the tools needed to be a major presence at the college level. I don’t think Wade will ever be an NBA player, but he could easily be an All-Big 12 player if he takes a step forward this season.
    • Here’s a video that the Kansas State athletic department put together on Wade in January of 2016. This video highlights some of the physical tools that make Wade such an intriguing player.
    • In the 2016 season, take a look at Wade’s shooting stats and his rank among Big 12 players.Capture
    • Those are outstanding numbers. Wade is in the top 20% of all 3 categories. Here are the other players who were in the top 20% of these categories last season: Jeffrey Carroll. That’s it. Just Wade and Carroll. And Wade is 6’10”! I can’t get past how impressive that is.
    • Now, here’s the problem. Jeffrey Carroll was a great shooter for Oklahoma State all season, and as an added bonus, he took 25% of shots when he was on the court. That was 2nd most on Oklahoma State behind Jawun Evans. What was the percentage for Dean Wade? 18%. That is not okay!
    • Of the 8 players who got regular rotation minutes for K-State, Wade was 7th in shot %, only ahead of Carlbe Ervin. When arguably your best shooter is taking the 7th most shots among your rotation players, your offense is not going to reach its full potential. Wade’s shot % actually went down from his freshman season, when he took 21% of shots when on the court.
    • Here’s the ultimate question. Is this Dean Wade’s fault? Or is this Bruce Weber’s fault? I think it’s an easy answer. Both! There were far too many times last season when Weber would go to his favorite offensive call (DRIBBLE!), which would result in his 2 inefficient guards, Stokes and Brown, running a dribble handoff offense on the perimeter with Iwundu. Unless the ball ended up in Iwundu’s hands, this would also result in an underwhelming possession where Stokes or Brown would have to take a difficult shot. Weber needs to do a better job of getting the ball in Wade’s hands.
    • HOWEVER, Wade also needs to take things into his own hands at times. There were countless times last season when K-State would run a pick-and-pop, kick it to Wade near the top of the key where he would have an open look from 3, and he would hesitate. Wade has to pull the trigger on those. Even if there’s a man closing out on him, Wade’s height will allow him to get his jumper off without too much distraction, especially with his fairly high release. He has to be more aggressive next season.
    • Wade also has to eliminate the dud games that he would have far too often last season. in 20 Big 12 games last season, he scored in single digits in 9 of those 20 games. That cannot happen next season. He will most likely be the most efficient offensive player, and K-State will need high production along with his high efficiency.
    • Reading all of that, it might be surprising that I view him as the player I’m most looking forward to watching next season. A lot of it might read as negative. But, it’s only because he has so much potential and his game is so effective when he’s aggressive. I’m excited to see how much he develops. He’s already got a great jumper, he has an above average shot fake when defenders close out too hard, and his post game, while not overwhelmingly explosive or powerful, has a subtlety to it that works. He just needs to take advantage of his increased opportunities.
  • Player to Make the Biggest Jump: Isaiah Maurice
    • Isaiah Maurice had a common season for a freshman big in a major basketball conference. He had spotty minutes that showed his inexperience, but also showed moments of serious potential.
    • After playing double-digit minutes in only one Big 12 conference game before March, Maurice tallied double digit minutes in 4 of K-State’s final 6 games.
    • In those 6 games, he only averaged 5 PPG, 1.5 RPG, and 1 BPG, but he showed promise. He showed flashes in the screen and roll game; he showed the ability to roll hard to the basket, catch in traffic, and displayed the necessary explosion to finish at the rim. He is not a back-to-the-basket post player, but he will be effective in PnR situations next season.
    • There is a benefit to him not being a traditional back-to-the-basket post player like DJ Johnson, and that is that there may be more space for Dean Wade to operate. During a PnR with a ballhandler and Dean Wade, both the guard and Wade may have more space to operate post-screen action if Maurice is hanging out in the short corner area waiting to crash the offensive glass rather than on the block fighting for position.
    • Speaking of the offensive glass, Maurice was 2nd on the team last season in OReb% at 8.5%. That was only behind DJ Johnson’s 10.5%. For K-State to maintain a similar offensive efficiency as last season (or improve that efficiency), Maurice may have to pick up some of that offensive rebounding responsibility that left with Johnson.
  • Record/Postseason Projection: 5-13, No postseason play
    • Ultimately, I think Kansas State will struggle quite a bit this season. I know Weber is used to having unheralded talent on his roster, but I think the dearth of talent on this roster is a bit too much to overcome. Unless Wade and Stokes take huge steps forward, I foresee a last place finish for the Wildcats.

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