The Nino effect: The Wildcats’ key

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Senior forward Nino Williams tries to break away from Kansas forward Perry Ellis to receive an inbound pass in the first half of the Wildcats' 57-68 loss to the #9-ranked Jayhawks in the first installment of the Sunflower Showdown January 31, 2015, in Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence. (Parker Robb | The Collegian)

Every team in college basketball has their signature players — players that could transfer to dozens of schools across the country and still make an immediate impact.

For K-State, that player is their sophomore guard who can score anywhere from the floor: Marcus Foster. Averaging 14 points per game, Foster is one of the most lethal scorers in the Big 12, especially when you factor in his ability to shoot the long ball, averaging nearly 40 percent from behind the arc this season.

Foster is performing well and has been doing everything in his power to get his team in the win column, minus Wednesday’s suspension. Even so, K-State is struggling. Something clearly is not right.

As Kareem Abdul-Jabbar eloquently once said, “One man can be a crucial ingredient on a team, but one man cannot make a team.”

Foster has indeed been a crucial ingredient, but he hasn’t been able to elevate the play of his teammates – especially K-State’s guards, who have struggled mightily at times this season.

For the Wildcats, only one player has been able to make everyone better around him: senior forward Nino Williams.

Williams, who Weber refers to as the “old man” of the group, may look exactly like that old man at times, hobbling and wobbling up and down the court. But when he’s playing to his potential, Williams makes the Wildcats as competitive as any team in the conference.

Williams creates matchup nightmares for any team, because his 10- to 15-foot shot — rarity in this new age of basketball that Williams connects on over 50 percent of the time — allows K-State to function by spacing the floor for its guards and senior forward Thomas Gipson down low.

It’s well-known throughout the conference that the Wildcats heavily depend on Gipson to either grind in the paint or pass it out so the guards can rotate the ball.

But something that isn’t as well-known is that when Williams isn’t on the floor, it’s easier for teams to double- (even triple-) team Gipson down low. Williams draws the help-side defense away from Gipson, which puts him in better opportunities to score down low.

When Williams is on the floor and is healthy, the difference is noticeable. The Wildcats’ ability to pass and swing the ball side to side is night and day different.

There’s a reason why Williams is the only Wildcat to have won Big 12 Player of the Week honors twice this season. In fact, he’s the first to have won it multiple times in the same season since Rodney McGruder did it four times in 2012-13.

In the three games before he injured his knee against West Virginia, Williams took over games, averaging 20 points, 7.3 rebounds and shooting 10-10 from the charity stripe — something that cannot be overlooked on this roster.

Since the injury, Williams’ team appears to be searching for an identity. They look lost trying replicate the “Nino Effect” by having players like junior forward Stephen Hurt try to get into a rhythm of sinking shots, which has worked at times, but isn’t as consistent as the senior forward.

Simply put, the Wildcats don’t have a player to replace Williams.

Williams is the true key to K-State’s success. If he doesn’t climb out of the hole that he’s found himself in soon and catch a break with his knees, the Wildcats could be dead in the water, and could be a team destined to be knocked out early in the tournament — the National Invitational Tournament.

Emilio Rivera is a sophomore in mass communications.

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