During head coach Bruce Weber’s Wednesday afternoon media availabity, there was one topic in specific that drew more speaking time — the bigs.
Throughout the season, the men’s basketball team (5-10, 1-6) has had fluctuation with lineups, whether that’s because of COVID-19 or an array of injuries up and down the roster. However, with more healthy players, Weber hopes to go with bigger lineups down the stretch this season – especially with sophomore big Kaosi Ezeagu back in the rotation.
“It’ll help us on the defensive end for sure,” Weber said.
Ezeagu returned to action on Tuesday in the Wildcats’ loss to Oklahoma in Norman. Even in only 11 minutes of action, the sophomore proved Weber’s comments, tallying two blocks. He also finished with seven points on 3-of-6 shooting, three rebounds and an assist.
Weber hopes to mix the play of Ezeagu and freshman Davion Bradford more down the stretch now that Ezeagu is getting conditioned again, especially with Bradford exceeding expectations.
“Kaosi can definitely be more of a force on the defensive end,” Weber said. “When guys got hurt or when guys got COVID, Davion took advantage of it. He’s made the most of it and his experience is unbelievable … where he’s at. Now, if we can piece him and Kaosi back together, Davion is way better than we ever expected, way further along — now can Kaosi get back to where he was at the start? It’ll help us defensively, we can go inside and score. There’s those points in the game where we need a bucket, now we can possibly go to them.”
The first step of this experiment could be on display Saturday when Kansas State takes on No. 14 West Virginia. The Mountaineers (9-4, 2-3), who the Wildcats split with last season, revolve around their size, rebounding and defensive ability.
On the year, West Virginia allows opponents to shoot just 40.7 percent in halfcourt sets and just 33 percent in pick-and-roll handler opportunities — something K-State looks to get offense out of.
West Virginia also turns opponents over on 16.6 percent of all possessions.
“They’re West Virginia,” Weber said. “We told our guys, even with COVID and sitting out, they’re still going to come and play like they always do. They’re physical, they’re aggressive with everything. They’ll take you out of your stuff by denying stuff. You’re going to have to play basketball, play strong. We just turned it over 20 times against Oklahoma who’s not as physical … We’re going to have to take care of the basketball and make basketball plays.”
With the Mountaineer’s size and their lack of ability to guard the pick-and-roll screener, Weber is looking to see what Bradford will be able to do on Saturday.
“He’s much better in games where he’s going against bigger guys,” Weber said. “When they have smaller guys who can get under him and are quicker, he struggles a little more.”
On the year, West Virginia allows the pick-and-roll screener to shoot 63.3 percent on attempts, a clear struggle. Even though K-State doesn’t feed the screener often, Bradford is shooting 70 percent on those looks — which could play a factor this weekend.
Even in back-to-back rebuilding years, K-State upset West Virginia last year at home. Weber knew what it took then and he knows what it’ll take Saturday, even if it may sound simple to those on the outside.
“We did a great job against them last year, built the lead up into the 20s and played them pretty well at their place even,” Weber said. “So, we’ve got to pass and catch, take care of the ball. We’ll have to rebound. Those are three simple things, but it’s hard to do against them.”
He said he also doesn’t want to get into holes such as this team has at times this season.
“It seems like we’re either pretty good or really bad. We’ve got to get a little more consistency,” Weber said. “So when we have those lulls, somebody’s got to step up and make a play or get a stop — get a tip-in or something. We have to avoid teams making big runs to where we can’t come back.”
K-State’s match-up with the Mountaineers is scheduled for a 3 p.m. tip-off with broadcast coverage on ESPN2. Radio coverage will be available on the K-State Sports Network.
“They’ve been behind in a lot of games, but they’ve come back to make games of it or win games,” Weber said. “We’re going to have to play a full 40 minutes. … They do what they do and hopefully, we can play a little more efficient — a little better.”
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A big future
Weber also spoke about the future of the program, especially with the signing of three-star center Logan Landers.
Weber addressed the number of big men he will have at his disposal and how that might work, even with the game moving towards small ball.
“Our big question moving forward is, can we play big in this day in age?” Weber said. “You look at Gonzaga, they play big and they’re really good. Then, other teams, you play against Baylor, can you play big with their versatility?”
Weber said the Golden State Warriors helped change the way normal people see the game of basketball. He said he even reached out to NBA personnel regarding their views on the situation.
“When you watched the Warriors when they played small ball, I would ask the NBA guys, ‘Why are you still drafting big guys? They don’t matter anymore,'” Weber said. “They said sooner or later the Warriors are going to break up and everyone’s going to go back to normal basketball.”
Now the question for the Wildcats is can they play two big guys and be effective?
“We’ve got some pretty good big guys to build with, but can we play big basketball?” Weber said. “With more inside presence and high-low … that’s what we talk about when looking forward to the future.”