The expectations for Kansas State women’s basketball and head coach Jeff Mittie may be as high as it’s been in recent years. But that doesn’t mean Mittie — or his players — agree with outsiders’ expectations.
The Big 12 coaches poll ranked the Wildcats fifth last week, which is tied for the best in Mittie’s career in Manhattan (2016-17). Yet it still didn’t sit well with him.
“What I would say about being picked fifth is that, quite honestly, I was a little irritated that we were picked fifth,” Mittie said. “I think we are better than that. Whether we will be, we’ll see. I never feel like people respect our players enough.”
Mittie went on to say that the preseason rankings don’t matter all too much, and that the team not only has the goal of advancing in the NCAA Tournament come March, but to be one of the top-16 teams and host.
The Wildcats return plenty of firepower from the 2018-19 season, namely star senior forward Peyton Williams. But the team also brings back sophomore guard Christianna Carr and junior guard Rachel Ranke, so Mittie isn’t having to search for a new crop of scorers.
Mittie also was confident in his team’s depth.
“Competition is going to be fierce,” Mittie said. “It’s going to be interesting how this thing shakes out. I don’t think it’s going to be a two-week or four-week thing. I think it’s probably going to be a little longer than that. Maybe by Thanksgiving this will shake out, but competition is pretty stiff.”
The bulk of the depth, Mittie said, will be relevant when looking for who is going to get between 10 and 25 minutes of playing time. The Wildcats have a lot of new talent, including redshirt freshman Ayoka Lee and transfer Angela Harris, who was an All-American Athletic Conference third team selection for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons, when she played for Houston.
Figuring out how these pieces will work toward the identity Mittie wants is the puzzle he’s putting together. While he doesn’t know how it’s going to fit yet, he’s got a good idea of what the picture looks like.
“Part of your identity has to be that Peyton Williams has got to get touches,” Mittie said. “Playing through her is going to be part of our offensive identity. Everybody knows that. That’s not going to be a big secret amongst the league or non-conference opponents. How we do that will be what we establish.”
Getting toward that goal hasn’t been easy, since Williams hasn’t gotten as many practices because of her commitments for the Kansas State volleyball team. But Mittie and the Wildcats are working around it.
“We did not start on the very first day that we could start,” Mittie said. “We get 30 practice days with the 40 days prior to our games. One of the things that we have to do is we have to save a few of those for Peyton. We have to keep some back, so we are utilizing them as we are able to get her. What that does to you is you don’t have as many days off.”
Another emphasis of Mittie’s is to score at a higher clip, more quickly. He said he felt the Wildcats didn’t score easily last season, so the best way to combat that is by playing faster as a whole. This means getting steals and rebounds then getting into transition faster. The Wildcats also have a plethora of 3-point shooters, more than past Kansas State teams, that could make for useful threats in transition.
“We need to make more 3s, there is no doubt,” Mittie said. “I think shot selection has been an issue for us at times. I think this has the potential to be (the most) 3-point shooters out on the floor as we’ve had (at once), especially with the expansion of Peyton’s game to the 3-point line last year.”
The Wildcats are in a better place than other Big 12 teams. They have a lot of pieces to work with, stars returning and an idea of how they want to play.
Kansas State’s first game is an exhibition against Washburn on Oct. 29 at Bramlage Coliseum. The Wildcats’ pursuit of playing above expectations begins then.
“Being ranked fifth is the middle of the conference,” Ranke said. “We want to be at the top of the conference, so it is what it is. We think we are better than five, so we are going to take five as something light. We are better than five, so we have to prove that.”