Could this be the year for K-State men’s basketball?

K-State men's basketball team's coach, Bruce Webber, talks to the crowd during Madness in Manhattan on October 12, 2018, in Bramlage Coliseum. (Emily Lenk | Collegian Media Group)

After a thrilling run to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament, the Kansas State men’s basketball team gears up for a successful season to potentially make another postseason run.

The Wildcats are ranked No. 12 in the preseason AP Top 25, and No. 11 in the preseason USA Today Coaches poll. They also came in at No. 2 in the Big 12 preseason poll.

As the men’s basketball team nears the start of its 2018-19 season with an exhibition game on Friday, four aspects stick out as we preview the season.

The Big Three

The Wildcats return a lot of experience from last year’s Elite Eight team, as 12 of 14 players on the roster were on last year’s team. Of those 12, nine averaged six or more minutes per game.

Among the returners are the trio of seniors Dean Wade, Barry Brown Jr. and Kamau Stokes.

Wade was chosen as the Preseason Big 12 Player of the Year, and the forward was K-State’s top scorer last season, averaging 16.2 points per game. After missing most of the NCAA Tournament with a foot injury, the Kansas native will be ready to begin his senior campaign

Brown returns for his senior season after working out with the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets in the offseason. The senior from St. Petersburg, Florida, joins Wade on the Preseason All-Big 12 Team. He led K-State in minutes last season, averaging 35 minutes per game and was second on the team in scoring with 15.9 points per game.

Stokes missed seven games last year with an injury, but was still able to average nine points per game which was fourth on the team. He is currently 10th in school history with 140 three-point field goals made.

If all three can stay healthy this season, this team could be playing deep into March.

The X Factor

Junior forward Xavier Sneed came alive during the NCAA tournament and will be a huge key to the success of K-State’s offense. Over the course of the tournament, he averaged 13.75 points per game, seven rebounds per game, while shooting 50-percent on three-point field goals (11-22).

In the 61-58 Sweet 16 win against Kentucky, Sneed flashed his potential as he led the team in scoring with 22 points and recorded nine rebounds.

Sneed was third on the team in scoring a season ago, averaging 11 points per game. He also played the third-most minutes of anyone on last year’s team, averaging 31.4 minutes per game.

Bench Help

Sophomore guard Cartier Diarra gained valuable experience last season while filling in for Stokes and cementing his spot in the starting lineup. He could either continue to be a starter, and if not, would be a very valuable asset coming off the bench.

Fellow sophomore guard Mike McGuirl stood out while filling in for Brown during the Big 12 tournament, and continued to provide valuable minutes off the bench during the national tourney.

McGuirl’s best game was against Creighton in the Round of 64. The then-freshman scored 17 points, going 3-for-5 from three-point range.

Redshirt sophomore forward James Love III played in 15 games last year, averaging just 4.6 minutes per game. His 6’11” presence down low could be valuable off the bench.

New Blood

True freshman point guard Shaun Neal-Williams is a three-star recruit out of St. Louis and could find some time on the floor this season. If he can get some collegiate experience and some mentoring form Barry Brown and Kamau Stokes, he could help the Wildcats down the road.

Junior forward Austin Trice is a community college transfer, and thanks to his athleticism should provide a boost in the rebounding category, as rebounding was a huge need for the Wildcats in the offseason.

The number five community college prospect by 247Sports, Trice was third in total rebounds (362) and fourth with 12.1 rebounds per game at that level.

My Projected Season-Opening Starting Five

G Kamau Stokes

G Barry Brown

F Xavier Sneed

F Dean Wade

F Makol Mawien

The Wildcats will play one exhibition game on Friday in Manhattan against Pitt State at 7 p.m. The game will air on FOX Sports Kansas City, as well as stream on the FOX Sports Go App and ESPN3. The game will be broadcast across the K-State Radio Network.

K-State will officially begin the season against Kennesaw State at home next Friday at 7 p.m., which will air on the same television networks and platforms.