Kansas State is just one game into the Bruce Weber era, but it’s already clear things are going to be different.
The Wildcats cruised past the mascot-less team from North Dakota on Friday, 85-52, but the cast of characters for K-State didn’t fit the script.
Instead of leaning on seniors Rodney McGruder and Jordan Henriquez, K-State struggled to a nine-point halftime lead behind the efforts of Thomas Gipson and Will Spradling. In the second half, Angel Rodriguez and Martavious Irving fueled K-State’s big run that turned a close game into a blowout.
So what happened with K-State’s two veterans?
In the case of Henriquez, the change in playing time was a coaching maneuver.
Weber mentioned after the game that Henriquez didn’t match up well with the smaller bigs from North Dakota. It’s easy to push around guys who are that tall and lanky. Henriquez played just 10 minutes and scored eight points, two of which came on late buckets long after the game had been decided.
That game-specific change is something former coach Frank Martin didn’t do much of. It’s not much of a stretch to envision Martin stomping and screaming as Henriquez was pushed around before ripping him in a timeout and benching him unceremoniously.
Weber made the decision to play along with North Dakota’s small ball, sparing Henriquez what could have been a frustrating night.
McGruder, on the other hand, was not a coaching move.
The senior finished 3 of 12 from the field while playing more minutes than any other K-State player. He was 0-for-4 from beyond the arc and missed his two free-throw chances.
Weber clearly expects more.
Coming into Weber’s inaugural campaign, the general consensus was this K-State team has the talent to win its fair share of games, maybe even as a dark-horse Big 12 title contender. Certainly they would have a good chance to return to the NCAA tournament and make a run.
But if that’s going to even remotely come to fruition, it has to start with McGruder and Henriquez.
At halftime in the season opener, the pair of impact seniors combined for just six points. Not exactly eye-popping numbers, especially considering the score was close most of the opening half.
So the real question becomes, was this game a snapshot of what to expect under Weber? Or will McGruder lead this team on the court — as well as in scoring average — for the rest of the season?
Those questions can’t be answered right away because Weber doesn’t expect to fully know his new team until December. For now, it’s clear the new coach is still toying with how to best play this team.
Consider this: with three minutes to play, K-State’s lineup was Michael Orris, Omari Lawrence, Shane Southwell, Ryan Schultz and Henriquez.
“I think we get to early December and we’ve gone through some home games, some neutral games, you go to George Washington — that’s when you’ll know more about your team,” Weber said. “It’s a long way away, but I like our group.”
Meanwhile, Weber will continue to put his stamp on the program as the Wildcats move past the Frank Martin era.