Kansas State coach Bruce Weber, whose Wildcats play UNLV at 1 p,m. Saturday at the Thomas & Mack Center, said he was struck recently by a comment made by Texas Tech coach Chris Beard about the importance of maturity on a college basketball team.
“If you look at (Texas Tech’s) team last year and our team last year, we had older guys who had been through the wars of college basketball,” Weber said. “They’re able to survive that because physically they’re more mature. Mentally, they’re tougher and more disciplined. That makes a big difference.”
Beard, who briefly coached at UNLV, and Texas Tech advanced to the national championship game last season; Kansas State won a share of the Big 12 regular-season title.
Now Kansas State (1-0) is like many teams with turned-over rosters. But despite that, UNLV coach TJ. Otzelberger said the main attributes of Weber’s team will remain the same. In addition to being consistently successful, he said Kansas State has “had a lot of toughness and physicality.”
He said this year’s Wildcats team is still “searching for different guys who are going to be their leading scorers,” but he said UNLV also knows Kansas State will be “a well-coached team” that excels defensively and on the offensive boards.
Kansas State lost its top three scorers from a team that went 25-9 last season. The Wildcats were upset in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by UC Irvine, with a roster that was largely the same one that made the Elite Eight a year earlier.
Expectations aren’t nearly as high this season. The Wildcats have been picked to finish ninth in the Big 12.
If Kansas State is to beat that forecast, players such as junior 6-foot-4-inch guard Cartier Diarra and senior 6-9 forward Makol Mawien need to produce. Both did in Tuesday’s 67-54 victory over North Dakota State, with Diarra totaling 23 points, six rebounds and six rebounds and Mawien finishing with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
Added to the roster is one of the strongest recruiting classes in Weber’s eight-year history at Kansas State. The headliner is 6-4 guard DaJuan Gordon. He scored just five points in 23 minutes in the season opener, but his production should increase with time.
“There are guys that started on an Elite Eight team, that started on a Big 12 championship team, but they were more the four, five, six guy,” Weber said. “Now they’ve got to be the one, two, three guy on the team, and then we have four new guys. It’s interesting, and you’ve got to be a little more patient, especially here early in the season.”
That includes explaining what it means to “go under a ball screen,” Weber said, but he sees signs for hope. Against North Dakota State, five different Wildcats scored on five consecutive possessions at one point in a 46-point second half.
“That’s when you hit a run,” Weber said. “We have some versatile guys and a variety of guys who can score. But again, that adjustment to college basketball is not easy, especially for those young guys.”