It’s not even a week since the 2012-13 college basketball officially ended, and K-State’s 2013-14 campaign has already been written off. In USA Today’s installment of way too early rankings, the Wildcats are expected to be among others receiving consideration. Sitting nine deep behind the top 25, the authors project a spot around 34th in the nation last year. In the age where every conference winner receives an automatic bid and the Big 12 is dismissed on the national stage (only four teams received NCAA bids this year), #34 in the nation puts the team a bit closer to the bubble than fans would appreciate. Here’s why you shouldn’t be surprised by this ranking:
- Rodney McGruder’s eligibility is up. The team’s leading scorer and likely first round NBA draft selection did a little bit of everything for the Wildcats and leaves a tremendous hole in the starting line up.
- Also out are Jordan Henriquez and Martavious Irving. Henriquez was the team’s sole starting forward and swatted balls like Obama swats flies. Irving was arguably the team’s most important backup, and filled in over the last third of the season when Will Spradling was alternatively out and severely limited due to a chest injury.
- This team lost in the first round to La Salle. La Salle!
- People love to hate on this team. Picked to finish sixth in football. Picked to finish fifth in basketball. Coaches and the media don’t even believe in this program’s ability to compete in the Big 12, so why should we expect any love on the national level?
So that’s why no one should be offended when writers proclaim this team doesn’t deserve to be ranked (or at least not taken aback). And here’s why you should buy the fact that the ‘Cats will be back:
- Losing those three seniors hurts, but most teams would kill to return the cast that Bruce Weber will have to work with. Will Spradling was lighting it up before breaking his nose and bruising his sternum this year. Hell, he came back the same game he broke his nose in and lit it up. Also overlooked was that Angel Rodriguez was playing hurt – he underwent surgery the Friday after the NCAA tournament loss to repair a torn ligament in his left wrist.
- Henriquez was unquestionably valuable, but still averaged less than 20 minutes a game (just under 16 this year, and never played more than 30). The bigger role went to Thomas Gipson this year, who returns. Additionally, K-State has some talented bigs in Nino Williams and D.J. Johnson. Interior players typically need more time to adjust to the collegiate level than guards, and these two underclassmen should continue improving after demonstrating positive growth throughout the year. With the amount of turnover and reliance on freshman seen in teams expected to be better than K-State, this squad should be way more reliable and mature.
- This team did lose to La Salle. However, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a team shoot lights out like the Explorers did in the first half. They shot 58.1 percent from the floor and 54.5 percent from three-point range in the first 20 minutes en route to 44 points. I wonder if The Explorers hit over 50 percent of their threes in practice. The second half, when K-State outscored La Salle 35-19, was much more like the game you would expect to see, and no one would doubt the Wildcats’ ability to still take a five game series here despite a 0-1 hole.
- I could copy/paste the bullet from the first list again here. I’m sure the football and basketball teams will be picked to have a hard time replicating last season’s successes again. The squads took that doubt and turned it into top 15 finishes this year, no reason they can’t do it again. K-State has been bringing some talented underclassmen along the last couple years, and now it’s time for these kids to shine. Shane Southwell is gonna drop 30 on somebody next year, and K-State will be a top-five seed again in next year’s tournament.