Thursday, August 12, 2010
Summer Buzz: Kansas State Wildcats
By Eamonn Brennan
For the next month or so, our friends at The Mag are previewing one high-profile school per day for their Summer Buzz series. For the sake of all that is synergistic, yours truly will be attempting the same, complementing each comprehensive Insider preview with some adjusted efficiency fun. Today's subject? Kansas State. Up next? Kansas.
About three weeks ago, I hosted a chat right here on the ESPN.com Interwebs. One chatter asked me to guess at four 2010-11 Final Four teams. So I did: Duke, Michigan State, Purdue and Kansas State. You might notice a trend here. All four teams are stocked with veterans who excelled in 2009-10. Guessing at the next freshman phenom is always difficult; if you're going to force me to pick the Final Four eight months before the tournament starts, I'm going with what I know.
Interestingly enough, chatters questioned but one team in that group. That team was Kansas State.
To be fair, most of the doubters were Kansas fans. One even asked me if Kansas State gave me a "free farming class," an inter-Kansan insult I didn't quite get. (In the comments, a Kansas State fan called the angry Kansas fans "beakers." Total burn!)
But, in-state rivalry aside, the Kansas fans did raise some interesting questions. Whether Kansas State can answer them could determine the Big 12 title, a Final Four bid, and, if all goes well, a national title, too.
The questions are as follows: Can Kansas State make up for the loss of lightning-quick point guard Denis Clemente without losing its offensive edge? And can Frank Martin find a defensive stopper to replace the here-today-transferred-tomorrow Dominique Sutton?
The answers -- well, the answers are tougher. Despite returning six of its seven leading scorers, Clemente's loss will remake Kansas State in significant ways. Jacob Pullen, the team's leading scorer and one of the few carryover candidates for best guard in the country, will have to handle the ball even more. Rather than benefit from Clemente's pace-pushing fast breaks, Pullen will be the one setting the tempo. And, by the way, he'll still need to score.
It's quite an assignment, but if anyone's up for it, Pullen is. The bearded one was one of the country's best offensive players last season; his three-point range is seemingly unlimited, and on the rare times when his shot isn't falling, he's quick enough to get by his defender and draw a foul. (Pullen drew 6.5 fouls per 40 minutes last season.) Clemente's skills were worthwhile -- score on the fast break, distribute to teammates, don't turn the ball over -- but Pullen's skill set mirrors them nicely.
The only problem with all of this is whether Kansas State's attack can be as potent as 116.6 points per 100 possessions if Pullen is pulling double combo-guard duty -- not to mention drawing extra help defenders in the process. That could either go really well ... or, yeah, not so much.
Meanwhile, down on the block, forward Curtis Kelly ought to be licking his lips. Kelly proved he could handle a major scoring load in Kansas State's legendary Sweet Sixteen win against Xavier this spring, and with Clemente out of the mix, that means even more touches for the talented big man. At the Deron Williams/Amar'e Stoudamire Nike Skills Camps this summer, the guards and forwards played a ton of pick and roll, and it's not hard to envision Kelly and Pullen -- both camp attendees -- putting those lessons toward a revamped 2010-11 Kansas State attack.
There's also the small matter of replacing Dominique Sutton. Sutton, who decided to transfer to North Carolina, was his team's designated defensive stopper last season, and it's not exactly clear if the Wildcats have anyone who can approximate his versatile lockdown ability. As good as Kansas State was on offense last season -- No. 13 in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency -- it was nearly as good on the defensive side (No. 17). Martin will have to hope a pair of athletic and defensively touted small forward recruits -- Shane Southwell and Nino Williams -- can keep the Wildcats' perimeter defense taking a Sutton-less step back.
In the end, there's very little reason to doubt that Kansas State is a Final Four team. By January, maybe that prediction will look silly, but for now, few teams combine this level of star power with experienced, veteran talent. Actually, there are four of those teams. And one of them is Kansas State.