It’s never too early to start to look ahead to next season. Over the coming weeks, we will examine what comes next for each team in the Power 5 conferences and also those outside the Power 5 who could make noise on the national stage. Today: The Kansas State Wildcats.
On Feb. 18, Kansas State lost at TCU 69-55 to fall to 13-14 on the season. That loss came four days after the Wildcats knocked off Oklahoma 59-56 and three days before a 69-42 loss at Baylor. Kansas State was so demoralized by that eighth loss in 10 games that senior center Thomas Gipson, when asked to preview a looming Feb. 23 date with Kansas, told reporters the Wildcats would "probably lose by 27."
Kansas State won 70-63. Five days later, it beat Iowa State 70-69.
Two weeks later, in their final game of the season at the Big 12 tournament in Kansas City, the Wildcats lost 67-65 to TCU.
That sequence is a handy sample; it tells you pretty much everything you need to know about 2014-15's most off-and-on-and-off-again team. It is hardly the only example. In fact, by Feb. 18, Bruce Weber had already long since seen his team lose three in a row -- one of which came at home against Texas Southern -- as he benched pouty star guard Marcus Foster. When Foster returned to full-time play, the Wildcats rattled off four straight wins, including a road victory at Oklahoma and a home win over Baylor.
And so it went, all the way through March. Kansas State ended the season with a 15-17 overall record; it also owned five top-20 RPI wins. How can a group of college basketball players be both that good and that bad at the same time? It was a baffling, hilarious, unprecedented feat.
Yet the underyling issues were always plain. Gifted with talent but beset by bad blood -- most of it pitting players against coaches, Weber chief among them -- the Wildcats spent almost all of 2014-15 asleep at the wheel. Occasionally they would jar awake, just in time to knock off Oklahoma. Then Foster & Co. would nod back off, and the wheels would gradually orient themselves toward the only place the 2014-15 season was ever going to end: in a ditch.
What the immediate future holds:
New faces, and lots of them.
Shortly after the end of the season, Weber openly dismissed Foster, along with freshmen reserves Tre Harris and Malek Harris. Sophomore guards Nigel Johnson and Jevon Thomas both announced their decisions to transfer. In a flash, five players Weber recruited early in his three-year tenure in Manhattan -- players he expected to be around for years to come -- were gone.
None were better, or more frustrating, than Foster. As a freshman, the lightly recruited Foster burst onto the scene, starting all 33 games -- tying Marcus Beasley's K-State frosh starts record -- and averaged 15.4 points and 31.3 percent of the Wildcats' shots. Foster had huge games on national television, earned a second-team All-Big 12 spot and was touted by some as the conference's best player heading into 2014-15.
That Weber was so completely done with Foster in April -- and vice versa -- is as good a sign as any of just how disastrous 2014-15 was. Foster was suspended for three games and was visibly uninterested in many more. His most memorable TV moments weren't scoring explosions from the perimeter but exaggerated displays of body language on the sidelines. It was never explicitly clear what Foster's specific problem was. Weber never elaborated. It was only clear that there was a problem -- one bad enough to make the offseason departure of an immensely talented player an afterthought.
Now it's back to square one. Weber remains upbeat about the future of the program, even as just five scholarship players remain on campus until an unremarkable (and largely unranked) six newcomers arrive in the summer. Weber also lost senior forwards Thomas Gipson and Nino Williams; his best returners are (probably?) Wesley Iwundu and Justin Edwards. A rebuilding year appears to be the most likely outcome. K-State fans are growing restless, and understandably so.
They should look on the bright side: No matter what next season brings, it can't possibly get weirder from here.