Huggins? Am I looking at the right picture? Can this possibly be the same
man, the same Huggins who recently left as coach of the Cincinnati Bearcats
under unhappy circumstances? The same coach who with his team was the
scourge of their conference for 15 seasons? The one who stalked the
sidelines pugnaciously wearing his trademark black outfits? Yep, that's
him, but apparently now loved by one and all in Manhattan, Kansas; home of
the Kansas State Wildcats. To complete his makeover, in his
first game Coach Huggins appeared in a dapper and flashy purple suit.
Say what you will about Coach Huggins, but in my estimation he is a very good coach, as witnessed by taking the Bearcats to 14 straight NCAA Tourneys and making the Final Four in 1992. He is also an excellent and persuasive recruiter, as reflected by the talent he has attracted to K St. That talent plus the home court advantage is going to pose a serious obstacle to Tech winning. However, even without a home court advantage, K St. might be favored by a paper thin margin. But don't give up just yet, Texas Tech. Point spreads are interesting and much pored over by gamblers, but they are not always correct. That's why they still have to play the games.
*Composite Power Rating and RPI compiled before Oklahoma game
In terms of relative strength, I use my own Composite Power Rating, which indicates Tech should be an underdog, for the first time in four games, by about four points. However, in this special instance, I think recent fundamental factors override the numbers and K St should be favored by more. I honestly have no clue by how much more. Having said that, if I were a gambler, heaven forbid, I wouldn't touch this game. There are too many variables and imponderables.
In terms of RPI, Tech is still roughly in the NCAA Tourney attractive mid twenties, but all the games that will affect their RPI are not yet played today . K St is approximately at 50. To reiterate from past articles, the RPI is not a power ranking, but an indicator that the NCAA looks at closely. No loss is a good loss, except perhaps in retrospect, but a road loss is less damaging to one's RPI. On the other hand, the NCAA has inserted a road win bonus into its RPI formula that would enhance Tech's NCAA Tourney profile if it were to win.
|Per Game Statistical Comparison (Rounded Off)|
So what do all these wonderful
statistics mean? Well, I've either been at this too long or not long
enough, because in all candor, they are pretty meaningless. There I said it;
and it sure feels good. Actually from the Tech side, they are still
reflective of their overall performance, to whatever degree statistics can
be. It is with regard to K St that I made my bold statement. Why? Simply
because of one player, a freshman at that.
Bill Walker, a 6' 6" forward arrived at K St as perhaps the most heralded basketball recruit in the history of the school. He, along with his equally coveted teammate, O. J. Mayo, so the tale goes, double handedly won two Ohio state high school basketball championships. From what I can glean, it looks like Walker might be one of those rare players that can be good enough not just to play superbly, but perhaps also make everyone around him better. It is clear too me, at least, that K St. has played better with him than without. By the way, it would be appropriate to tell you at this point that he was unavailable to play until five games ago against Kennesaw State, K St's tenth opponent of the season. He did not disappoint, with an apparent display of great athleticism in scoring 15 points on 6/10 FG's and 3/3 FT's, getting 4 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 TO, in 22 minutes. I know it was
against a cream filled doughnut, but still not a bad debut. Since then, without more detail, he has scored in double digits in every game, except his last one against Xavier, and apparently looked good doing it. He has started all four games since his first one, burned USC for 19 points, and has averaged about 6 rebounds/game.
An indication of what Walker may mean to this team is their recent game against New Mexico, at home in Manhattan. There is the home vs. on the road factor, but nevertheless K St was able to decisively defeat New Mexico, 72-56, after losing even more convincingly at New Mexico 78-54, in the first part of a single season home and home. As to be expected, in the stats as well, the reversal was immense, for example a 55% to 36% shooting advantage instead of a 29% to 48% disadvantage. I am doubtful that K St got that much better and New Mexico got that much worse in eight games sufficiently to justify a 40 point swing absent some new development. I can only ascribe the main reason as the addition of Walker to the team. So from here on out I will refer to BBW and ABW, before and after Bill Walker.
And yes, I know he played relatively atrociously against Xavier, and some Tech partisans may draw great comfort from that. However, I believe there were extenuating circumstances. He suffered from more than mere freshmanitis. He was back playing in front of the home folks in Ohio, on Xavier's home court in Cincinnati. He forced a bunch of shots and was clearly pressing. He only made 4/14 shots, missed all 3 FT's, and fouled out; all in a 76-66 loss He did start and played 33 minutes. Still, despite the debacle, he managed 7 rebounds and 2 assists.
I realize I have dedicated an inordinate amount of time to one player. This is because to cut a long story short, I believe that but for Bill Walker, I could make Texas Tech a favorite in this game, despite being on the road. With Bill Walker playing well, in my estimation Tech is going to have to take its A game with it to Manhattan, Kansas, in order to win.
It is difficult to pinpoint one thing as being K St's strongest point. At different times they have excelled over their opponents in various areas; out-rebounding most foes even in losing causes such as against Xavier, 36 to 28, New Mexico, 39 to 35, and Colorado state by 10, 34 to 24. Yet Tech's early season opponent North Dakota State out-rebounded them by a big margin
36 to 23. There, K St. pulled out a narrow win, 83-81, on the road, by making six more 3 pointers than the Bison. Many other times K St. simply outshot their opponents. And like any winning team that has some wins or close games against good to decent teams, they can play good enough defense to slow down their opponents.
I know that last paragraph is pretty nebulous, but after consideration, it brings together an idea. That is, I believe their greatest strength is the athleticism of their players. The Wildcats just seem to send wave after wave of athletes at their adversaries and some of them are going to get you. Something I had previously read put this glimmer into my mind and it has to do with the idea that most everything is relative. When Wichita State, I believe #8 at the time, lost only its second game of the season to USC, the day after having lost their first to New Mexico, their coach Mark Turgeson said in dismay, "They kept coming at us. They have a lot more athletes than us." After seeing that K St. decisively beat USC, 68-55, on the road , my conclusion was, if USC really has such good athletes and K St. handled them relatively easily, they must have some hellacious athletes themselves, and they do.
Offensively they have so many weapons that can hurt you. To start with, 6'8" G/F Senior Cartier Martin, the wayward son who was "indefinitely suspended" but then was forgiven and brought back into the fold with his last season's 18 points/game average, just in time for the first game. So Huggins' cupboard wasn't exactly bare when he arrived. Martin is a dangerous streaky shooter who has started all but one game and is averaging 15 points/game on a 44% average, grabbing almost 4 rebounds/game, close to a steal/game, 70% on FTS, and hitting 34% on 3's. He has lit it up for over 20 points on 6 occasions. K St's guards are big. There is 6' 5" Senior Lance Harris who has started every single game along with also 6' 5" Junior David Hoskins. Harris went off for 24 point against North Dakota State and 26 against Coppin State , averaging 10 points/game, and over 5 rebounds/game
while Hoskins put up 19 points against USC, has scored in double digits on various occasions and is a good rebounded at 5/game. There is Akeem Wright, a 6' 6'' G/F averaging about 7 points/game and 5 and ½ rebounds/game. Then there is one of the highest rated Jucos last year in shorty Blake Young, only 6'2 ", who also averages 7 point/game and has started over half of the games, We will look at their biggest Bigs later.
I feel like Demosthenes, constantly searching for inconsistency. Every team is inconsistent at one time or another, except perhaps the 1975-1976, perfect record National Champion Indiana team. Or maybe the 1974-1975 team, that might well have also been undefeated but for an untimely injury to star Scott May during a road win against archenemy Purdue. Indiana couldn't overcome a broken arm to May in the NCAA Tourney. May gamely played with a braced arm, but Kentucky prevailed in the regional final 92-90.
Of course what I'm really looking for is consistent inconsistency, to coin a phrase. It sure isn't in K St's shooting lately. ABW, K St. has shot over 50% in 4 of 5 games, and not just against cupcakes but also against pretty good New Mexico, and the only team that outshot them, USC, the Wildcats beat by making 21 more F/T's.
The only area that the Wildcats have shown that consistent inconsistency is in shooting 3's ABW. In those last 5 games they have shot 4/14, 5/20, 4/15, 1/16 and 3/13 3 pointers, a less than sterling performance. Bill Walker can be blamed in part for this, since he is 0/8. The Tech faithful can only hope the team's negative streak continues. The best Wildcats on 3s are Martin at 34%, Harris at a very good 40%, and Stewart at 32%. Tech fans should be hoping that Walker, Young at 11/40 for 28% , Wright at 5/18 also for 28% , or Hoskins at an anemic 5/29 for a really poor 17%, keep on thinking they should be shooting 3's and fire away. Not to jinx the Raiders, speaking of broken records, but yet again I feel this could be an area where Tech might make up lost ground. Not the most dependable of weapons, as they say live by the 3, die by the 3, but it may be bombs away against the Wildcats.
From the averages on rebounding both BBW and ABW, I think I would be beating a dead horse to say more than that it could be a major problem for Tech.
Due to the BBW vs. ABW dilemma, it does not seem that fruitful to do a meticulous scrutiny of the schedule here. In general the schedule is challenging, with a number of road games, some against pretty good opponents such as 10-5 Cal, 10-3 Colorado State, 8-6 ND St (6-6 NCAA Division I) but with a difficult schedule, and finally 10-4 Xavier and 12-4 USC. The bad news of course is that this is a road tested, battle hardened bunch. The Wildcats have even had some success on the road against USC, Rutgers, and ND State and played Colorado St. very close, 83-84, in a loss. Just because Xavier beat K St., Xavier lost at home to Bucknell, and Tech beat Bucknell solidly, that is no reason for complacency.
In this game there is an intangible, but nevertheless very real factor. A wise person once said, "The only good thing about freshmen is that the next year they will be sophomores." To expect a freshman to carry a team on his back can be expecting too much at times. Obviously, K St. looked very beatable against Xavier, with Walker under-performing . Will Bill Walker suffer another attack of freshmanistis? Even if it were to occur, will that in and of itself be fatal? It could happen, but the flip side is that Tech can't and shouldn't depend on it. I seriously doubt if Coach Knight will.
There are only a couple of players left to mention. Two talented players roped in by Huggins were 7' 3" Jason Bennett and 6'10" Luis Colon. Both have started, Colon 3 times and Bennett on 6 occasions. While their offensive numbers are meager at about 3 point/game each, Bennett averages about 2 ½ BLK/game, and they do pull down a combined 6 rebounds/game. However, if pressed for someone to foul, it should be Bennett who is missing more FT's than he makes at just 45%. Next best player to foul is Harris at 57%.
Although 10 different players have been starters at one time or another, the three surest starters are Hoskins, Martin, and Walker, with Harris and Young most probable with them, but Bennett if they want to go big for a 5th and Stewart possibly in the mix. Pretty good coming off the bench are 6' 9" Senior Forward Serge Afeli and Wright. There is also Jermaine Maybank, a 6'4" Senior Guard who is pretty much a Jack of All Trades, getting about 13 minutes/game. He shoots pretty good, gets about 3 rebounds/game, dishes out a good number of assists for the minutes he plays, and even has made 2/6 3 pointers.
Bill Walker was such a late recruit, he wasn't even mentioned in the preseason analysis.
The Bottom Line
This is short but not so sweet. I don't want to sound like the voice of doom, but this is seemingly going to be a very tough game to win, though there is not such an imbalance that it should be mailed in. The problems have been set out, but Tech has assets that could prevail. As they say here in Texas, "You gotta dance with the one that brung you." The one that has brung Tech so far is its superlative guard group, hopefully at full capacity.
If they play to full capacity, then Tech can win, especially if for example Walker falters or the Wildcats keep jacking up 3's with reckless abandon and they keep missing. As I've said before, this isn't rocket science. I'm sure Coach Knight and company are fully aware of the team's shortfalls and are working overtime to remedy them.
An asset that I forget to mention because it is so obvious to me is that in my opinion, Tech has the best coach in the business.
A final note that I love to repeat because I am so convinced of its validity, is the intangible asset that this team has displayed on numerous occasions except when so outgunned or so tight through extrinsic circumstances that no amount of effort would be enough. That is this team'scourage under fire that may just overcome a bunch of athletic phenoms.
From College Hoops Net (Preseason):
Kansas State Wildcats
Overall Rank: #57
Conference Rank: #7 Big 12
2005-06: 15-13, 6-10, 7th (t)
2005-06 postseason: none
It didn't take long for new coach Bob Huggins to put his stamp on the Kansas State program. And what a difference a coach like Huggins makes. For the first time in a long, long time the Wildcats are beginning to have preseason expectations.
Who's Out: Center Tyler Hughes was dismissed from the squad after averaging 1.7 points and 2.0 rebounds per game off the bench last year. Dramane Diarra started 27 games last season at forward and averaged 5.2 points and 5.3 boards during his senior campaign. Little used forwards Mark Frederick and Kyle Taylor have also run out of eligibility. Curtis Allen and Mario Taybron are transferring out and little used Josh Campbell and Schyler Thomas have wrapped up their careers at Kansas State.
Who's In: The frontcourt will find some help with Jason Bennett and Luis Colon. Bennett, at 7-3, is the tallest player in K-State history and will be a defensive presence as a freshman. Bennett can play facing the basket and his size will be an asset. His post moves need some work, but there is plenty of potential for a big freshman season. Colon is a solid shot blocker and rebounder and is expected to develop into a quality option off the bench or compete for the starting gig at the power forward spot. Blake Young, a transfer from Daytona Beach Community College in Florida, will see significant minutes at the one and two spots. One of the top rated juco's in the nation, Young is a tremendous scorer and averaged 23.4 points last year. Point guard Ray Brewer will add some depth at that position and walk-on Ryan Patzwald will join the team for the 2006-2007 campaign.
Who to Watch: The two guard spots will be filled by Young and returnees Clent Stewart, Lance Harris and Akeem Wright. Stewart is not a prolific scorer, but after two years of effectively running the KSU offense, he will be looked to once again for leadership. Harris is an experienced shooting guard, averaging 10.7 points per game last year. However, Harris might be forced to work off the bench for his senior campaign. Wright proved to be quite effective during his first season in Manhattan. He is a solid rebounder and will battle for the starting shooting guard spot.
Final Projection: The status of Cartier Martin is uncertain after being suspended indefinitely by the school. Even without the 18.0 points per game, the Wildcats are deep at the small forward spot. David Hoskins averaged 13.1 points and 4.6 rebounds as a junior, but either Hoskins or Martin are likely to see most of their minutes at the four. The talent on the wings is extraordinary, but the experience up front is an issue and the newcomers will have to adjust quickly. If that happens, Coach Huggins will have KSU in the NCAA for the first time since 1996.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NIT
Projected Starting Five:
Clent Stewart, Junior, Guard, 4.6 points per game
Akeem Wright, Senior, Guard, 6.2 points per game
Cartier Martin, Senior, Guard, 18.0 points per game
David Hoskins, Junior, Guard, 13.1 points per game
Jason Bennett, Freshman, Center, DNP last season