The final two months of the Kansas State basketball season were a rollercoaster ride for the program.
From a close win on the road that featured head coach Bruce Weber being booed by a fan, to a blowout loss to one of the worst teams in the conference, it was a constant up and down for the Wildcats until they were selected for the NCAA tournament.
On Tuesday, Weber said the team made strides during the season and came up just short on making even more.
“We had some good moments, some really positive things that happened,” Weber said. “Obviously, we had some heartbreaking losses. I challenged them a year ago to take a step. I think we took a step. We had a chance to take a giant step, and (we were) a few plays from that.”
Even after the Wildcats made the postseason and scored a win over Wake Forest in the First Four, the criticism from fans continued to mix in with the positive vibes around the program.
Weber said he thinks some of that outside fan noise might have gotten to the players and weighed on them at times, but it didn’t bother him. The K-State coach simply ignored it all and focused on stay positive.
Now as the Wildcats go forward into next season, Weber both understands why some fans were unhappy and feels optimism for next year.
“I think we made a lot of strides,” Weber said. “Our guys improved. We got in the NCAA tournament. I think the thing that was frustrating for all of us — the coaches, the players, the fans — we were so close. Wide-open shot at Kansas to do something that’s not been done in a long time, the Maryland game, the TCU and Texas Tech games — those were the close games that could have helped us take another step.
“We’ve got a good group of young guys. Now they have to take that step.”
The Wildcats lose two starters (Wesley Iwundu and D.J. Johnson) and their most consistent contributor off of the bench (Carlbe Ervin).
Returning is a core of sophomore players in Dean Wade, Barry Brown and Kamau Stokes who all averaged double figures during the season. Freshman Isaiah Maurice and Xavier Sneed return after productive seasons off of the bench.
Add in a trio, so far, of incoming recruits and redshirted players James Love and Cartier Diarra, and Weber sees a group capable of doing big things — if they follow the lead of Iwundu and Johnson and improve in the offseason.
“We need this next group to take that step and even a little more to push us to another level,” Weber said.
K-State’s incoming class includes forward Nigel Shadd, center Levi Stockard and guard Mike McGuirl.
The Wildcats still have as many as two spots to fill before next season. The focus is on bringing in another forward and potentially adding another guard.
“We still would like to get a big, that’s our priority,” Weber said. “Somebody with some experience; somebody with a little bit of athleticism and bulk just to guard/wing kind of player, I think we would take somebody. If not we’ll save that one.”