This might be one of the most highly anticipated seasons for Kansas State men’s basketball.
Returning nearly everyone from a team who went to the Elite 8 a year ago, the Wildcats spoke to the media on Wednesday afternoon at the Carl and Mary Ice Family Basketball Practice Facility.
“This is always a fun time of the year for our players,” head coach Bruce Weber said. “It’s been about six months since we got going again in the spring and they’ve worked very hard.”
The Wildcats are coming off an Elite 8 run where they beat Creighton, UMBC and Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament.
That experience will help K-State, although they did play most of those games without senior forward Dean Wade.
“It felt as if I had played all the hard parts of the season and then got to the fun part and I had to sit in timeout the whole time,” Wade said with a chuckle. “It was great to be a part of it. March Madness is amazing and there are no words to describe how it felt.”
Wade said he is back to 100 percent after a foot injury that sidelined him for most of the postseason last year. Now, he’s working at getting back to form.
“It feels great and it was healed up a few weeks ago,” Wade explained. “I’m just trying to get my conditioning back, but everything is going well right now.”
K-State brings back many core players from last season. Senior guards Barry Brown and Kamau Stokes return, along with fellow senior Wade. Junior forwards Xavier Sneed and Makol Mawien, along with sophomore guard Cartier Diarra come back with starting experience under their belts as well.
Diarra feels that the run in the tournament was a learning experience for the team.
“Going to the Elite 8 showed us a lot of things like how close we were and how easy it is to slip,” Diarra said. “We have to pay attention to detail because you only get one game in the tournament and it’s not like the NBA with a seven game series.”
Sneed had a breakout NCAA Tournament—highlighted by a 22-point, nine-rebound performance against Kentucky in the Sweet 16— helping to propel the Wildcats into the Elite 8 and putting his name into the national spotlight.
“That was something new of course for me, but it was great. It was great just to be there and make it that far,” Sneed said.
After trying out for some NBA teams, Brown is back for his senior season and said this year is about leaving a legacy.
“That was another reason why I didn’t want to stay in the NBA Draft. I want to leave a legacy here as a basketball player and as a person,” Brown said. “I want to be known as a good guy around the community, helping out and seeing the fans. I felt like I owed it to myself and them to come back and play one more year.”
The Wildcats have a bit more of a difficult non-conference schedule this year, including games against Marquette, Vanderbilt and possibly a matchup against Missouri if they should meet in the Paradise Jam.
Weber sees scheduling as a very important thing, saying that “scheduling at times can be more important than recruiting.”
“If you have a young team you don’t want to over-schedule, but if you have an older team you don’t want to under-schedule. People don’t understand it because they think you just call some team and get a game,” Weber said. “Its not happening because you have to get referees and figure what place — it’s a difficult process.”
The Wildcats were ranked 11th in NBC Sports’ preseason poll, but Weber is a bit perplexed as to why K-State hasn’t got more praise this offseason with all the players coming back and the success it had at the end of last year.
“It still baffles me a little bit that we have everyone back, we were in the Elite 8 without our best player…and we’re not rated as high,” Weber continued. “Sometimes they don’t pay attention I guess.”
The season will start on November 2 when the Wildcats have their only exhibition game of the year against Pittsburgh State while the official first game is on Friday, November 9, against Kennesaw State inside Bramlage Coliseum.