From the Sports Desk: Which player is key to K-State’s success this season?

Freshman guard Kamau Stokes drains a 3-point jumper to put the Cats ahead 31-19 in the first half of the Wildcats' 83-70 victory over the Texas Tech Red Raiders Jan. 12, 2016, inside Bramlage Coliseum. (Parker Robb | The Collegian)

The Wildcats have been hot and cold this season (although it’s been a little more cold than hot), and the balanced effort provided by K-State has made it so that a MVP has been fairly hard to find.

So if that’s the case and if K-State wants to have more success in the second half of conference play, which player is crucial to that success? Sports Editor Tim Everson and sports staff members Liz Heath, Avery Osen and Riley Gates give their opinion on who that player is.

Tim Everson

It’s been well established that K-State struggles scoring the basketball. The Wildcats are ninth in the Big 12 in field goal percentage, shooting only 42.9 percent from the field.

When you move that shot from behind the 3-point line, that shooting percentage drops to 29.3 percent, which is dead last in the conference.

Jump shots, for one reason or another, just aren’t consistently getting it done for K-State so far this season. The Wildcats need to find that consistency under the basket.

Senior forward Stephen Hurt must start scoring inside consistently. Even though his game is traditionally not made to work under the basket, he is the only player that is above 6 feet 10 inches that has played any minutes this season.

Also, Hurt is the second-best free-throw shooter on the team with an average of 79.5 percent, and yet he’s only attempted 39 free throws.

By comparison, junior forward Wesley Iwundu has shot 100 free throws at this point. Hurts’ number needs to go up.

By pounding it down inside, Hurt can also attempt more free throws when he is inevitably fouled.

The 3-point shot is bound to return at some point, right? Right? But until then, a strong inside game can help fill the scoring void for the Wildcats.

Liz Heath

At times, this K-State team plays with enough energy, passion and teamwork to make last season’s dysfunctional team seem like a distant nightmare. Other times, it’s easy to pick out the young players from the upperclassmen.

Despite their youth, when the Wildcats play at their full potential they can play with anyone in the country. The key is keeping that high-caliber style of play consistent. With a young team, you can’t expect that for a full 40 minutes.

That doesn’t mean fans don’t have plenty to be excited about. One thing K-State fans should be especially excited about is freshman guard Kamau Stokes.

Yes, Stokes is still learning the game and what it means to play at the Division I level. He has had ups and downs this season, but when Stokes is on his game, such as his 24-point performance against North Carolina, the rest of the K-State team seems to match those performances.

Stokes has shown that he is more than capable of playing in clutch situations. His team-high is 20 points against Baylor, including two free throws that sent the game into overtime. Right now, Stokes is averaging 9.9 points per game and has been one of the high-point scorers in three of the Wildcats’ last five games.

The ability to score the ball in clutch situations is good, but what really gives Stokes potential is his ability in the point guard position. Stokes has the ability to take control of this K-State team and lead the Wildcats up against the best in the Big 12. It won’t happen overnight, but when those skills are fully developed fans will have plenty to cheer about.

Avery Osen

For the question this week, I’m going to say Iwundu, who is the face of the team right now, is the key to K-State’s success. He needs to keep playing like he is and even better.

He has been a solid player this year, but head coach Bruce Weber and the rest of his team needs him to take the next step that we all know is inside him.

Averaging the most minutes played on the team so far this season, Iwundu is the clear leader of this team, but he needs to play more like it late in these close games.

He is leading the team in scoring with 12.3 points per game. But if this team is going to win more games, Iwundu needs to be the one shooting shots late in the game, and he needs to be scoring closer to 16 or 17 points per game.

Iwundu is the biggest factor for the Wildcats because he is so versatile on both ends of the floor, which you don’t see very often in a basketball player. This is why he is one of my favorite all-time players.

Tuesday night in West Virginia, Iwundu worked very hard on the defensive end, and many times he was the first one on the hardwood when the ball was loose.

Iwundu has struggled at the charity stripe this season, however, shooting below 70 percent. This is something he has got to work on and be better at down the stretch.

Iwundu and the rest of the Wildcats still have time to make a run and be in the field of 64 come March, but most of this rests on Iwundu’s shoulders. My guess is that he will step up and get the job done and send this team playing into mid-March.

Riley Gates

Take a look at the statistical leaders for the K-State Wildcats. Iwundu leads the team in scoring with 12.3 points per game. Freshman forward Dean Wade leads the team with six rebounds per game. Both are critical to this team’s success, but neither of the two are the most crucial player for the Wildcats.

You need a leader on the floor. You need a floor general. You need Kamau Stokes.

In basketball, nothing is more crucial for a team than someone who can bring the ball up the court and run the offense. We saw this to be true during the course of last season when K-State had a disastrous season. What did they lack on the 2014-15 squad? A point guard who led the team. Sure, you had Nigel Johnson and Jevon Thomas, but what did they really do for that team? They just combined to turn the ball over 104 times.

Stokes has been stellar for the team this season, and he is only in his first season. He is averaging 9.9 points per game as the Wildcats’ starting point guard. That alone, as a true freshman nonetheless, is showing the potential Stokes has to be a fantastic point guard at K-State.

The Wildcats play well when Stokes plays well, and they play poorly when he plays poorly. When K-State beat Texas Tech by 13, Stokes dropped a team-high 17 points. When the Oklahoma Sooners embarrassed this team in Norman, Oklahoma, Stokes scored a mere five points.

The Wildcats need a point guard to lead their team. They need Stokes.

Tim Everson was born in Wichita, KS in 1994. Before fifth grade he moved up to Manhattan for one year before settling in Riley, KS where he graduated from Riley County High School in 2012. Tim has worked for the Collegian since spring of 2014 and took over as Sports Editor during the summer of 2015. Tim loves sports, music, movies and good food when he can get it.