Jan 07, 2012; Manhattan, KS, USA; Kansas State Wildcats center Jordan Henriquez (21) blocks out Missouri Tigers guard Kim English (24) during a game at Bramlage Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Scott Sewell-US PRESSWIRE

Kansas State Wildcats Basketball Season Preview

The college hoops season is right around the corner, and Busting Brackets is here to whet your basketball-starved appetite. Over the next five weeks, we are publishing season previews team by team, conference by conference, to offer a glimpse into the upcoming season. Busting Brackets is giving you the lowdown on the biggest storylines, offseason changes and x-factors for each team and each league as we roll into the 2012-13 season. Our complete season preview archive can be accessed here. Buckle up, peeps.

Kansas State Wildcats

Last Season 22-11 (10-8 Big 12)
Lost to Baylor in Big 12 quarterfinals
Lost to Syracuse in third round of NCAA tournament
Key Returning Players: Rodney McGruder, G
Will Spradling, G
Angel Rodriguez, G
Jordan Henriquez, F
Thomas Gipson, F
Martavious Irving, G
Shane Southwell, G
Adrian  Diaz, F
Nino Williams, F
Key Additions: Bruce Weber, Head Coach (Former Illinois HC)
Michael Orris, G (Crete-Monee HS)
Darrell Johnson, F (Parkway North HS)
Key Losses: Frank Martin, Head Coach (South Carolina)
Jamar Samuels, F
Jeremy Jones, G (Transferred to South Alabama)
Victor Ojeleye, F
Top Non-Conference Games: *Nov. 21 vs. Virginia (NIT Season Tip-Off, MSG)
*Nov. 23 vs. Michigan or Pittsburgh (NIT Season Tip-Off)
Dec. 15 @ Gonzaga (State Farm Battle in Seattle)
Dec. 22 vs. Florida (Hy-Vee Wildcat Classic)
*Assuming the host teams advance to the semifinals
Top Conference Games: Jan. 5 vs. Oklahoma State
Jan. 22 vs. Kansas
Jan. 30 vs. Texas
Feb. 11 @ Kansas
Feb. 16 vs. Baylor
Feb. 23 @ Texas
Mar. 2 @ Baylor
Mar. 9 @ Oklahoma State
Breakout Player: Angel Rodriguez. The dynamic Miami-bred point guard had an up-and-down freshman campaign, but flashed enough moments of brilliance to win over the starting job by mid-season. Little known to the outside world, there was a time during the offseason when Rodriguez contemplated transferring in light of the departure of the coach to whom he committed (Frank Martin). But the scintillating sophomore ultimately chose to wait it out, and will roll the dice with a new head coach in town. Rodriguez’s “throw caution to the wind” approach to the point guard position is certainly not for everyone, Bruce Weber among them. So don’t be taken aback if Angel appears to have undergone a makeover of his game since you last saw him in March. The reckless scoring should still be there, but with Weber now at the helm, expect Rodriguez to be a bit more cultured at the point guard position. Weber certainly knows a thing or two about what it takes to nurture quality floor generals, having coached such point guards as Deron Williams, Dee Brown and Demetri McCamey. Weber’s most recent success story, Brandon Paul, has a lot of the same gunner-instincts and tendencies that Rodriguez shares, which bodes well for the K-State sophomore’s future at the school. Rodriguez has the tools. Coach Weber has the instructions. Together, the player-coach tandem should enable Angel Rodriguez to blossom into one of the Big 12’s premiere point guards. With Rodney McGruder to his side and Jordan Henriquez down low, the Wildcats point guard has no shortage of capable weapons at his disposal.
X-Factor: Frontcourt Play Post-Frank Martin. Although best known for his success with point guards, Bruce Weber has never coached a team with a flimsy frontcourt either. From Brian Cook to James Augustine on down through the Mikes (Tisdale and Davis) and most recently Meyers Leonard, Weber cultivated a strong crop of big men during his Illinois tenure. He’ll have another talented pivot to work with in his first year in Manhattan, with the fate of the team riding on how much this big man progresses. Jordan Henriquez, a defensive menace who made great strides between his sophomore and junior seasons, is poised for a big year with the frontcourt to himself. If not for Angel Rodriguez, Henriquez would get the nod as the likely breakout player for K-State this season. At 6-foot-11 with a gangly pair of arms, Henriquez has the makeup to blossom into one of the best big men Weber has ever coached. Whether Henriquez alone is enough inside for the Wildcats to succeed in the Big 12 is a separate issue altogether. Kansas State graduates its top big from last year’s team, four-year forward Jamar Samuels, and will rely on significant contributions from Nino Williams and Adrian Diaz, two oft-used bench players who combined spent only 305 minutes on the floor last season (a per-game average of less than 10 minutes between the two players). Promising sophomore forward Thomas Gipson, of course, will be the Robin to Henriquez’s Batman for most of the season, but the Wildcats will lean heavy on a pair of inexperienced forwards to shoulder the load off the bench. Under Frank Martin, K-State’s calling card was stingy defense and controlling the glass. The Wildcats ranked no worse than fourth in the Big 12 in rebounding (and led the league in rebounding twice) during Martin’s five years at the school. Whether K-State can replicate that success with Weber remains to be seen (keep in mind the Wildcats had been a below-average rebounding team the year before Martin arrived). Jamar Samuels is a huge loss on the court in terms of dictating the boards. Frank Martin could be an even bigger loss for his philosophical value to the program. But the Cats have the right guy aligned as his replacement. How quickly Weber can prove it by stabilizing the frontcourt will determine just how strong this year’s team can be.
Best Case: Thanks to its defensive prowess, Kansas State is competitive night-in and night-out and has an opportunity to pull out games in which the offense goes cold. Staunch defense and a continued commitment on the boards is the recipe for success in Manhattan once again. Although the Wildcats do miss Jamar Samuels, the team copes just fine in his absence, as it did in the third round of last year’s NCAA tournament when the Cats gave top-seeded Syracuse a scare despite the absence of Samuels (who was suspended for the game). Rodney McGruder edges out Baylor’s Pierre Jackson as the best guard in the Big 12. The versatile two-way player has a monster senior season in scoring, rebounding and on defense, earning him mention in All-America conversations. McGruder’s point guard, Angel Rodriguez is one of the most improved point guards in the league under Bruce Weber, while sharpshooter Will Spradling rediscovers his outside stroke which seemed to abandon him last season. Factoring in Martavious Irving, playing with a chip on his shoulder after losing his starting gig to Rodriguez, the Wildcats own one of the better backcourt rotations in all of college hoops. Jordan Henriquez is a beast inside, a different animal under the mentorship of Weber. Thomas Gipson emerges as a viable No. 2 option down low. Returning all but two scholarship players including eight guys who averaged at least ten minutes per game last season, K-State is one of the deepest teams in America. Just as the gridiron gang did after starting the year ranked sixth in the preseason Big 12 media poll, the hoops team—which started the year ranked fifth in the preseason coaches’ poll—shatters expectations and finishes third in the conference. With a delicate balance of experience, star-power and depth, the unheralded Wildcats blitz by Oklahoma State and Texas, two teams that are receiving far more hype in the preseason because of incoming [meaning unproven] freshmen and returning youngsters on the verge of breakout years. Newsflash for those folks: K-State has more returning talent than Okie State and Texas combined.
Worst Case: No longer is stout defense and dominant rebounding the bread and butter of K-State. That trend began with Frank Martin and leaves with him too. Minus Martin and Jamar Samuels, the team’s top rebounder on last year’s team, the Wildcats return to being an ordinary rebounding group. The defense is good, not great, which is a substantial difference given Kansas State’s inconsistencies offensively. Rodriguez does not make the sophomore jump running the point. With the easy-going Weber now calling the shots, Rodriguez becomes even more undisciplined than he was playing for the hot-headed Frank Martin. McGruder has a disappointing senior season thanks to opposing defenses scheming to take him out of the offense. With McGruder less of a threat, the Wildcats are vulnerable offensively. Henriquez sputters as a senior, and Weber can’t work his magic with the 6-foot-11 center on short notice. Frontcourt depth is nonexistent, and Gipson does not make the leap necessary for the Wildcats to be formidable inside. With no marquee additions on the roster ready to contribute immediately, K-State essentially returns the same team as last season sans its frontcourt leader. The net result? Status quo, at best; regression, at worst.  The Wildcats fall to the fifth in conference, leapfrogged by up-and-coming Oklahoma State and always dangerous Texas. Low-lighted by two more losses to in-state rival Kansas, the debut of Bruce Weber in Manhattan is a major disappointment. K-State sneaks into the NCAA tournament, having sweated it out on Selection Sunday beforehand, but the Cats are summarily bounced in the opening round.
Projected Finish: Regular Season: 21-10 (11-7 Big 12), 3rd place Big 12
Lose in Big 12 tournament semifinals
NCAA tournament No. 6 seed

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