If it wasn’t for a trio of freshman combining for 38 points, the Kansas State men’s basketball team might have been in some trouble last Friday in an exhibition with Pittsburg State.
But head coach Bruce Weber knows it probably won’t always come down to the freshmen bailing his team out, and that’s why he referenced one of K-State football coach Bill Snyder’s favorite buzzwords when talking about the Wildcats’ upperclassmen — consistency.
The Wildcats, who open the season against Northern Colorado at 8 p.m. on Friday in Bramlage Coliseum, will be looking for more from their experienced players now that the games start to count.
“If the freshmen can carry us, I’ll be surprised,” Weber said. “One of the words I put up (in Wednesday’s practice) was consistency. We need consistency from the older guys and they may not shoot perfect every game but they have to be part of it. We can’t shoot 36 percent (like against Pittsburg State) and expect to be a consistent team.”
Part of that consistency will start at the point guard position, where senior Will Spradling was somewhat shaky in his debut as the team’s starter in that role last Friday.
But despite his performance in the game, scoring no points and finishing with four fouls, Spradling said he was disappointed with his game against Pittsburg State. And he said he didn’t hear much from the coaches either.
“(Weber) really didn’t say anything to me” he said. “I got moved to point so I expected not to get as many shots as Marcus (Foster) and Shane (Southwell) can get. Marcus is a scorer and so is Shane. I did expect to have more shots but not too many shots.”
Weber said if Nigel Johnson can play as well at point guard as he did in the exhibition, it could give them the chance to play Spradling at the second guard spot and create more opportunities for him to score.
Weber said it will all come down to patience for the team, as the player’s roles are slowly ironed out.
Foster, who is set up to be just the 18 th freshman to start for the Wildcats and first since Thomas Gipson did in the 2011-12 season, said the roles are starting to become more clear, but the coaches are still experimenting with them.
“I think we are all still messing around with things, and we are still trying to find out what our roles are,” he said. “We have some defensive stoppers, some X-factors for us, and we still need some rebounders. We’re just coming together as a team right now.”
Some of K-State’s issues against Pittsburg State last Friday came in the frontcourt, where the Wildcats were playing without Gipson due to an unspecified injury. Gipson was present for practice on Wednesday, but Weber said it was still unclear whether he would be available for Friday’s game.
Not only was Gipson’s status not apparent, but Weber also said they still hadn’t decided on a starting lineup yet. Instead, the coaching staff wanted players to be competitive for the spots in practice.
“The big thing is practice matters, you have to come every day and practice,” Weber said. “If you do what you are supposed to every day, you are going to be in a lot. I just want guys to be consistent. It’s who is in at the end of the game that really matters. We need people with energy and they will get minutes if they have that.”
The likely starting lineup for the Wildcats could be Spradling at point guard, with Foster and Southwell at the other two guard spots. Nino Williams could be one of two forwards, and if Gipson can’t go, DJ Johnson might be the other.
K-State’s experienced players will get a chance to find some rhythm and maybe consistency, against a team that likely won’t be a pushover. The Bears went 13-18 last season, but won seven of their last 10 games before losing in the semifinals of the Big Sky Conference tournament.
Weber admitted it’s a game he might have wanted to play later on in the season, but said it’s a good challenge for his team to deal with from the get-go.
“They’ve got an experienced team,” Weber said. “They’re a great shooting team and they’ve got somebody inside that will be able to punk us a little bit. It will be a good experience for us.
“We are playing at home and they are not, so we just have to take advantage of that.”
The Wildcats have just three games to get ready for the late-November trip to Puerto Rico for an early-season tournament. Weber said they will have to learn from every game and improve in each game before they make that trip.
“We have three games in a nine-day period and then we go to Puerto Rico and we have three games in a short period,” he said. “We’ll find a lot out about everyone in those couple of weeks.”