Kansas and Kansas State in Manhattan. That’s never exciting, right? To help prepare us for the game later today, I reached out to Eric Rubottom over at Bring on the Cats, the SB Nation site covering the Kansas State Wildcats. He was kind enough to find a few minutes to answer some questions for us.
RCT: With all the turnover on this team from last year, what kind of expectations did you have coming into the year or this team? How has the team performed compared to those expectations?
BOTC: I would say that expectations hovered around being competitive, getting a team together that could be competitive, and get a postseason trip to the NIT with an outside shot at an NCAA berth. Making it to the Big 12 slate with no more than two losses was very possible, and finishing in the 6-7-8 range in the Big 12 conference was a legitimate - and all things considered, decent - outcome. Forgetting about stats for a minute, with only Iwundu, Edwards and Hurt returning with notable minutes from last year's dumpster fire, everyone knew it would be an uphill battle all year, from a cohesiveness standpoint if anything else.
It would appear that we've met expectations so far. Made it into the conference gauntlet with two losses - UNC in Kansas City and on the road at Texas A&M. If things play out like they could, we should finish 7th or 8th in the conference. The win over OU sent many into a tizzy about possible NCAA berth, but losing two in a row - including on the road at Oklahoma State, ended that talk quickly. The reality is we need to win 4 of our final 5 at a minimum, and probably win out until the Big 12 tourney, to make the championship bracket as an at-large. From a cohesiveness perspective, this team is way above expectations. They've shown they can compete with good teams out there, but they just haven't learned how to really get over that hump to win some of those games against teams that are more experienced.
RCT: As noted by you and Curtis Kitchen in an awesome mid-season write-up , this Wildcat team looks to be excellent on defense, but downright bad on offense. Unfortunately, it looks like those numbers have gotten worse on both ends (at least according to KenPom). How much of that is due to playing in the beast that is the Big 12, and have you seen any progress with this squad that isn't showing up in the stats?
BOTC: I'm glad you brought up the "beast that is the Big 12", because that is exactly what has caused the normalization of the metrics. The Big 12 is chock full of great teams on both sides of the ball, so going from a bunch of kenpom 100+ teams to a bunch of kenpom 1-30 teams will do that to the collective stats of any team residing below that highest 10%. It's not hard (relatively speaking) to be a statistically great defensive team against a bunch of middling squads that only have one or two threats...much more difficult against teams with 4 or 5. And while our defensive metrics have regressed a bit since non-conference, it's not like they've fallen off the planet. We're still #5 in 3PFG%, #8 in Adjusted Defensive efficiency, and #20 in Steal %.
The thing that has improved as Big 12 play has gone along is shooting, specifically from the outside; mainly due to taking fewer and higher quality threes. We seem to be more efficient with scoring in general, but we do suffer from scoring droughts frequently. The stats don't really bear this out, because we went through a stretch where we were SO bad, it's tough to get the needle to move much with better performance this late in the season.
RCT: What is the feeling with Bruce Weber? There was some chatter about the way he handled the team last year, and obviously the results haven't been there this year. Is he in any danger of being replaced after this season, or does the roster turmoil (arguably of his own doing) enough of an excuse to give him another season?
BOTC: Opinions are all over the board on this one, so I'll just comment from my perspective. This is something I talked about on our podcast back around the Mizzou game in the fall, and my opinion hasn't changed much since. For the time being, as long as Bruce is meeting expectations, I don't have a reason to call for his head. But he is on a very short leash. Going back to last season, a disastrous locker room environment isn't entirely his fault, but he needs to own some of it. After a season like that, it takes some guts to completely hit the reset button, but as you note, he's part of the reason it had to be hit. Not five-stars by any means, but we do have a couple of decent recruits coming in next year, and our freshman class this year is something you can get behind if you're K-State. Make the NIT this year, there's no question he's back next season, but it's NCAA or bust next year. Miss either of those marks, and I don't think he lasts much longer. AD John Currie will be pressured into making a move by the fan base at that point.
RCT: I'm hearing a lot is being made of the end of the game dunk by Brannen Greene in the last week, much more than when the dunk actually happened. Is this really a thing? Given the history of shenanigans between the two fan bases, how high on the list of ridiculousness does this rank?
BOTC: I personally haven't seen much said about it recently, but man, it was EVERYWHERE right after it happened, no? I don't think the guys on our team have forgotten, based on social media commentary. I just don't relate the dunk to any other "shenanigans", especially between fan bases. Anyone who plays competitive basketball - or is a big fan of it, as should be most readers - knows that is just something you don't do. Ever. I've had one experience where a fight broke out at the end of a game because someone went in and dunked at the buzzer, up 20, when the other 9 players let up. In my opinion, its the biggest display of a lack of sportsmanship that can be produced on a basketball floor and still be within the rules. I've seen KU fan reaction trying to equate it to payback for the "chickenwinging" incident, or Synder playing starters in the fourth quarter against KU in the fall. Without getting into a lengthy explanation...they're just not analogous at all.
I'm all about having a rivalry (even if the KU contingent doesn't think it is one), but I don't want it to become Xavier/Cincy or devolve into whatever is happening between BYU and Utah. I mean, let's hate each other - but we all have to get up and go to work/school in the morning, right?
RCT: Who do you got? I know it's customary to say "throw out the rankings" or "rivalry games are always close" or any other number of clichés, but how realistic do you think it is that the Wildcats trip up the Jayhawks' march to another conference title?
BOTC: Want a better cliche? It's very difficult to get a road win in the Big 12 this year. KU has four losses - three of which are road conference games. After seeing us take down OU at home, coupled with some things I saw in our game earlier in Lawrence, this is a coin flip for me. A gun to my head would make me take the Jayhawks, but it's not outlandish at all to say K-State has a good chance hold serve at home again this year. Turnovers are going to be key, as will hitting a couple shots from outside like we have recently. I like the Cats to take it with a score around 77-72.
RCT: Bonus - Star Wars or Star Trek?
BOTC: What an "enterprising" question :). Anyways, Star Wars, easily. The original Star Trek TV show was just too cheesy for me, and the movies seem like adaptations of common-theme short stories as opposed to a true saga.
RCT: Double Bonus - Pizza or Lasagna?
BOTC: Pizza all day. Give me a NY-style pepperoni with mushrooms, with the red pepper sprinkled on. But if I were to say Chicago-style, isn't it basically both?
A big thanks to Eric for helping us out. Don’t forget to check out the questions I answered for him as well.