Friday, October 9, 2015

Jellison: Cats control their own destiny

In just four games, Kansas State could be the regular season Big 12 champion.

And that’s pretty amazing when you think about it.

Of course, the Wildcats will likely have to win all four games, including one tonight against Texas Tech at 6 p.m. inside Bramlage Coliseum.

Texas Tech arrived in Manhattan on Saturday night after losing at Iowa State earlier that day. K-State officials did not expect today’s weather forecast to affect the game.

K-State is currently sitting tied atop the Big 12 standings with Kansas, the team that has held an airtight death grip of the conference for several years now. And although K-State might finish tied with the Jayhawks if it wins out, you just have to look at where the team was in March to understand how they came so far.

From the suspension of Jamar Samuels, the third-round loss to Syracuse in the NCAA tournament and the departure of Frank Martin, things got unsettled for K-State pretty fast.

Athletic director John Currie’s answer was to hire Bruce Weber. Weber had just been fired as the head coach at Illinois, failing to meet the program’s standards with the Big Ten and the NCAA tournament.

Weber didn’t arrive with the kind of message Bob Huggins did — saying “Why settle for second when first is available” — and by all appearances and attitude, he appeared to be the polar opposite of Martin and Huggins.

But Weber went right to work, installing his motion offense to add to the Wildcats’ stingy defensive style. And it worked.

After a few growing pains — and losses to Michigan and Gonzaga — the Wildcats showed just how good they could be this season with a win over Florida in Kansas City.

Weber and the Wildcats dove into Big 12 play head first, beating Oklahoma State, and knocking off former coaches in Huggins at West Virginia and Lon Kruger at Oklahoma. Martin had just one win over a former K-State coach in his five years in Manhattan. Weber is 4-0 in his first season.

K-State was within a possession or two of losses to KU at home and Iowa State, and since has only lost to an angry Jayhawks team determined to end it three-game skid early in February.

On Saturday, K-State beat Texas and won its 22nd game of the season, setting a record for the most wins by a first-year K-State coach in the regular season.

The stigma behind Weber has been that he is successful with someone else’s players, just as he has been this year. But if that’s the case, KU coach Bill Self had success with Kruger’s players at Illinois, and then Roy Williams’ leftovers at Kansas.

Miami coach Jim Larranaga is having success two years into his tenure with the Hurricanes, winning with players mostly recruited by Frank Haith, who, oh by the way, won with Mike Anderson’s players at Missouri last year.

In reality, all coaches either win or lose with someone else’s players when they take a new job. Weber quickly turned around the Southern Illinois program during his time there, earning the reputation that helped him land the job with the Illini.

And now he is not only sustaining success for K-State this season, but attempting to even elevate it over what Martin did in his last two seasons as coach after taking the team to the Elite Eight.

He’s taken guys like Shane Southwell and turned them into a quality starter, with a shot he never knew he had. And he took Nino Williams, a guy who seemed lost in Martin’s system, and made him an important contributor off the bench.

And now the Wildcats find themselves square in the Big 12 race, and with even a chance of disrupting what Kansas has done over the last eight years.

There were people who thought Martin leaving K-State would be the end of its successful run. But look at the Wildcats now, and look at what Weber has a chance to accomplish.

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