LOCATION: Manhattan, KS
CONFERENCE: Big 12
LAST SEASON: 20-13 (.600)
CONFERENCE RECORD: 7-9 (t-7th)
STARTERS LOST/RETURNING: 2/3
COLORS: Purple & White
HOMECOURT: Bramlage Coliseum (13,500)
COACH: Tom Asbury (Wyoming '68)
record at school 76-69 (5 years)
career record 201-128 (11 years)
ASSISTANTS: Mark Fox (Eastern New Mexico '91)|
Butch Hawking (Air Force '92)
Ernie Zeigler (Clearly College '94)
TEAM WINS: (last 5 years) 12-17-10-17-20
RPI (last 5 years) 86-41-112-81-73
1998-99 FINISH: Lost in NIT first round.
Kansas State was a team that never really found its identity last season. Things were looking up for the program that was coming off an NIT year. There were three four-year seniors, a rare occasion for a program that usually counts on junior college transfers. There were guys who had stepped up in previous years. Not as consistently as coach Tom Asbury would have liked, however, but enough to think they'd come through as seniors. So what happened? Well, there were 20 victories, a high in Asbury's five years in Manhattan. There was another postseason bid. But the Wildcats weren't satisfied. It seemed like a lost opportunity. "I'm not sure you ever look at a season, unless you have won it all, and feel like you have come away completely fulfilled," Asbury said. "Obviously, we didn't." Kansas State hasn't been that kind of fulfilled, or hasn't won a conference title, since 1977. The Wildcats were a popular sneak-up-on-everybody pick a year ago. Perhaps if two decisions had gone the other way, things would have been different. In a first-round Maui Invitational game, Kansas State led Indiana by 15 with five minutes remaining. But the Wildcats kicked away possession after possession and the Hoosiers maintained their composure for the victory.
The Big 12 season opened at Oklahoma State. Again, Kansas State held a double-digit lead in the second half, only to have the Cowboys rally. Indiana and Oklahoma State were good teams, but really no better than the Wildcats on those days. But those kinds of losses happen to unlucky teams, and that was Kansas State last year. So where do the Wildcats go from here? Having experienced players didn't seem to get them over the hump last year. Perhaps the newcomers will fare better this time. Kansas State returns its second-, third- and fourth-leading scorers. Nobody else who averaged more than six minutes per game is back. The Wildcats got some bad news over the summer when steady 6-1 sophomore Josh Kimm (2.2 ppg, 1.2 apg, 11.7 minutes, .415 FG, .400 3PT), the starter at point guard, tore an ACL in his left knee. He's gone for the season. That leaves as leaders three seniors. The slasher of the bunch is senior shooting guard Cortez Groves (9.9 ppg, 2.0 apg, 3.2 rpg, 23.5 minutes, .357 FG, .358 3 PT, .741 FT), who earned a starting role out of Moberly (Mo.) Community College last season. The 6-4 Groves opened the season at the point but soon was shifted to his more natural position when injured starter Chris Griffin returned. He shouldn't have to play the point this season but can if the Wildcats are pressed. The emergence of Groves and 6-8 senior power forward Tony Kitt (8.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 18.3 minutes, .601 FG, .602 FT), who transferred from Colby (Kan.) Junior College, provided a big lift for Kansas State. Kitt set a school record for field-goal percentage, frequently connecting after getting position in the block. Asbury probably didn't get Kitt as many minutes as he would have liked. Projected over 40 minutes, Kitt's averages increase to 19.3 points and 16.7 rebounds. He had some terrific games, such as 19 rebounds against Arizona State and six blocked shots against Kansas. He and Groves were selected to the Big 12 All-Newcomer team. Senior swing Josh Reid (9.7 ppg, 1.8 apg, 4.4 rpg, 25 minutes, .399 FG, .353 3PT, .750 FT), a former Kansas Mr. Basketball, needs to become Kansas State's Mr. Three-Pointer this season. Reid, 6-6, can fill it up his 94 three-pointers rank seventh on the school career list. He scored a season team high 23 against Arizona State, including three free throws with 12 seconds left that forced overtime in a Wildcats' victory. By saving his best efforts for the Big 12 Tournament, 7-foot junior center Joe Leonard (1.4 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 5.9 minutes, .310 FG, .636 FT) may have played himself into a starting role. In a semifinal loss to Kansas, Leonard had seven points, seven rebounds and a block in 13 minutes. Asbury will dip into his newcomer pool to find a point guard. Galen Morrison (18.5 ppg, 6.0 apg at Iowa Western Community College & Central HS/Omaha, Neb.), a 6-0 junior, holds an experience edge over 6-1 sophomore Kenyatta Dix (22.9 ppg at Buchholz HS/Gainesville Fla.). Dix finished high school in 1998 and sat out last season as a partial qualifier. He is the highest profile of K-State's newcomer six-pack. His high school teams won at least 20 games in each of his four seasons, and he was chosen all-state as a senior. Other new faces will provide most of the Wildcats' depth. The most interesting story belongs to 6-9 sophomore forward Ivan Sulic, a Croatian who averaged 13.0 points and 10.0 rebounds for his club team last season. Sulic's school didn't field a basketball team. His national teams have been successful. He led Croatia to the bronze medal in the 1995 Olympic youth games. Kelvin Howell (11.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 3.4 blocks at Westark (Ark.) Community College & Stamps HS/Buckner, Ark.), a 6-9 junior, will fill in at forward and center. Two Kansans, 6-7 freshman guard Quentin Buchanan (19.7 ppg, 7.6 rpg at Junction City HS/Junction City, Kan.) and 6-9 freshman forward Donnie Wallace (15.5 ppg, 8.3 rpg at Goddard HS/Goddard, Kan.), were two of the state's highest-rated recruits. Buchanan shot .603 from the field. Wallace led his high school to the state tournament for the first time in 20 years. Buchanan was a prep teammate of 6-7 sophomore forward Travis Reynolds (1.9 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 10.5 minutes, .509 FG, .400 FT), who will continue to earn minutes as one of the Wildcats' top defensive players.
Blue Ribbon Analysis
BACKCOURT C BENCH/DEPTH D|
FRONTCOURT C INTANGIBLES D
Kansas State did one thing last year better than anybody in the nation. Opponents shot .371 from the field, the lowest defensive figure in Division I. Under coach Tom Asbury, the Wildcats have always had one of the nation's top defensive teams. Another distinction: The Wildcats finished 11th in rebounding margin at plus-eight. Among those ahead of Kansas State: Duke, Auburn, North Carolina, Stanford, Utah and Arizona. But what did that say about K-State's offense? It was terrible. The Wildcats had no go-to player, no consistent scorer, despite a player (Tony Kitt) setting the school's season field-goal percentage mark. Improving the offense is a priority. Players like Kitt and Cortez Groves can score. They also can be shut down, and when that happens, there aren't many sources left.
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