Are the Kansas State Wildcats (29-8, 11-5 Big 12) better than the Kansas Jayhawks? It depends on who you talk to, which means that debatable question will be answered when the entire season and post season is over. We do know that last year the Wildcats tied for second in the conference, while the Jayhawks won the conference regular season crown and tournament title. We also know that KSU lost to Kansas both times in the regular season and in the Big 12 Tournament. The other thing that we know about last year was that the Wildcats got to the Elite Eight at the Big Dance while the Jayhawks were out after round two. The final thing that’s known is that KSU had its best season ever last year. Things are looking up for the Cats.
The frontcourt will see the Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year move into a starting spot. Forward Jamar Samuels (6-7, 220 lbs., JR, #32, 11.0 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.2 apg, 23.2 mpg, .539 FG, .373 3PT, .563 FT) will now be expected to put in more quality minutes and he’s certainly up to the task. Samuels was impressive for his ability to draw fouls as he was 17th in the nation, averaging 7.1 drawn fouls per 40 minutes of play. He offers a solid inside and three-point shot but needs to be more accurate from the charity stripe. He wasted a lot of his opportunities as he connected on just 56.3% of his frees.
Curtis Kelly (6-8, 239 lbs., SR, #24, 11.5 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.4. apg, 25.4 mpg, .565 FG, .000 3PT, .667 FT) will most likely occupy the other forward spot. Kelly, who was a transfer from UConn last year, started cold but by the second half was making consistent, major contributions. He was a massive force in the NCAA Tournament, averaging 15.0 PPG, 5.8 RPG and 2.0 BPG. He is an excellent offensive rebounder and solid shot blocker.
The biggest guy in the frontcourt will be 6-10, 280-pound center Freddy Aspirilla. Aspirilla is a JUNCO transfer who brings a huge wingspan to the court. In 2009 playing for Florida International, he was the Sun Belt’s Freshman of the Year as he averaged 13.7 PPG and 9.2 RPG. He was successful from the floor 53.2% of the time. The center brings size, athleticism and drive to the paint. Other teams will have a tough time controlling him.
In the backcourt, point guard Jacob Pullen (6-0, 2oo lbs., SR, #0, 19.5 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 3.4 apg, 31.6 mpg, .419 FG, .396 3PT, .822 FT) will start now that former point man Dennis Clemente, who averaged 16.6 PPG, 4.2 APG, 1.1 SPG, is no longer with the team. Last season, Pullen was pretty much a scoring machine and was almost as successful from the three-point arc as he was from two-point territory. Pullen’s role changes this season as he’s designated to run the offense, relying on others to score. Last season, he led the team in scoring and was also the team’s best ball stealer. He is a good player on both sides of the ball.
The question is who gets the nod opposite Pullen? There are three sophomores and two frosh who could start. The most likely candidate in terms of experience and output is Rodney McGruder (6-4, 205 lbs., SO, #22, 3.9 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 0.5 apg, 12.5 mpg, .495 FG, .419 3PT, .720 FT). Of the three who saw action, he averaged the most minutes and points and has the most accurate shot. He also offered some decent defensive chops.
Off the bench, expect to see sophomore forward Wally Judge (6-9, 248 lbs., SO, #33, 3.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 0.3. apg, 11.7 mpg, .438 FG, .000 3PT, .581 FT) come in the make some important contributions. Judge could be this team’s sixth man especially if he can bring more consistent play to the court. Judge is a former McDonald’s All-American who is an avid offensive rebounder. He may be ready to have a breakout season in 2010-2011.
Backups for the guard spots include two playmaking sophomores, Martavious Irving and Nick Russell. Although both are decent from the foul line, neither was able to shoot from the field. JUNCO transfer Juevol Myles comes from Tallahassee Community College where he averaged 12 PPG and 3.7 APG in 2009. He should see some action this season in the backcourt.
On offense, the Wildcats were hurt by their foul shooting as they hit just 66.9% (241st) of their frees. That stat is especially poignant as Kansas State led the nation in free throw attempts per game with 29.7. That meant that they wasted a lot of opportunities.
They were solid from downtown, knocking in 36.0% (85th) and decent from the field, completing 49.0% (122nd) of their two-point shots. Their offensive rebounding was especially impressive as they pulled down 40.4% (6th). The team’s overall offensive efficiency was 116.6 (13th). Along with that mark, the Wildcats played an up tempo game earning a grade of 70.3 (47th).
The team’s defensive efficiency was ranked 17th in the nation as they earned a mark of 88.9. Shots blocked stood at 13.4% (19th) and steals at 10.4% (115th). This is a team that managed to keep opponents at bay as they shot 45.2% against the Cats. On rebounding Kansas State was +4.3. Overall, the defense was solid and sometimes stoic.
Head coach Frank Martin (72-32 in three years at KSU and overall) has done fine work very quickly in bringing the Wildcats to the forefront of the Big 12 and the nation. Martin came in after popular coach Bob Huggins quit on April 6, 2007, going to West Virginia. Although he had coached on the high school level for seven years and then served as a college assistant at three different schools including Kansas for seven more, Martin’s elevation to the head coach spot at Kansas State was his first. Last year, he was chosen as the Big 12 Coach of the Year.
When Martin talks about the 2010-2011 Wildcats, he does so with confidence. And he should, this team looks poised to be a major contender both in and out of the conference. We’ll get a glimpse at what to expect from the Cats at the CBE Classic, which will include Duke, Gonzaga and Marquette. The loss of Clemente is huge but Pullen looks ready to assume that leadership spot. Pullen, who is extremely versatile, could be the Big 12 Player of the Year.
One worry has to do with the incoming class. They are good but they are not contenders for the best new guys on the block. There will be plenty of rough edges to smooth out, which means that the shooting guard position could be problematic if some of the sophomores can’t come through. Still, the team has some very fine junior college players ready to take the court.
So, is this team really better than the Kansas Jayhawks? Right now they’re ranked third, putting them seven ticks ahead of the Jayhawks. They will have various opportunities to prove that they are that good. Last season, they could not beat Kansas despite the fact that they met a total of three times. Kansas State will place second in the Big 12 and go deep into the NCAA Tournament. They may even go deeper than the Hawks, depending upon matchups along the brackets. Watch out, KSU is about to arrive.
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