Rodney McGruder, BaeBae Daniels

Kansas State’s offense needs to work out their kinks

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NEW YORK, N.Y. – Bruce Weber is in a unique position as Kansas State coach. He’s got a team at his disposal that certainly doesn’t lack depth — entering the game, 11 different players averaged at least 14 minutes per game — or experience.

But the difference between Weber’s more lax, free-flowing coaching style and that of the uber-intense Frank Martin creates an awkward partnership. These guys have spent as many as three years having one system, one style, one set of rules ingrained into every fiber of their being, and now everything that they’ve been taught about college basketball is changing.

It’s something that every coach has to deal with when he takes over a new job, but not every coach is inheriting a roster of players that actively decided to play basketball for Frank Martin. It’s something that will take time to develop.

Take a look at a guy like Rodney McGruder. He came into Wednesday’s Preseason NIT semifinal game with Delaware averaging 10.5 points and shooting 14.3% from three. The Wildcats won 66-63, but McGruder finished with just eight points on 4-14 shooting from the field. He’s not exactly in a rhythm.

“Rod wants to do so well, he almost thinks to much and worries to much,” Weber said  “Relax, come off the screen, hit the shot. Let the game come to you.”

“I asked him today, are you a good player? Than be a good player.”

The biggest issue Kansas State has had is on the offensive end of the floor. We touched on the struggles McGruder, a Big 12 Player of the Year candidate coming into the season, has had early on this year, but he’s not alone. The Wildcats had some ugly offensive sets against the Blue Hens, shooting 30.3% from the floor in the first half and 38.5% for the game, which was inflated when Jamelle Hagins, UD’s shot-blocking presence in the paint, went down with cramps with 15 minutes left in the game.

But that’s by design.

“We told our guys, we can win early if we defend, play hard and rebound,” Weber said. “Offensively, [we’re] trying to figure it out. I think if we get through Friday night, we only have two games in a three-week period. Now we’ll get back to practice and hopefullyget a little more fluid offensively.”

That makes sense. The foundation of any team is on the defensive end of the floor. You start by figuring out how to keep people from scoring and survive on the basics and raw talent of the players on your roster before implementing a more complicated offensive system.

What’s concerning, however, is that Kansas State has had time to practice. They took a trip to Brazil in August and had ten practices preparing for that trip in addition to the preseason workouts coaches were allowed during the summer.

Weber’s reworking the wiring of his team, and while this game against Delaware was, in actuality, just a single game, it’s still concerning that the Wildcats aren’t further along offensively.

The talent and the defensive ability is there for this team to make some noise in the Big 12 and a run in the NCAA tournament. The question is whether it will all come together.

I guess we’ll find out in the next three weeks.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

VIDEO: Kris Dunn wills Providence to win over No. 11 Arizona

Kris Dunn, Elliott Pitts
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Kris Dunn spent the first 35 minutes of Friday night’s game against No. 11 Arizona in foul trouble, splitting his time between sitting on the bench and trying to avoid finding himself, again, on the wrong side the whistle.

With 11 minutes left in the game, and with Dunn yet to find a rhythm, the all-american point guard was whistled for his fourth foul as he battled for a rebound with Arizona’s Mark Tollefsen. Head coach Ed Cooley say his superstar beside his for six game minutes, time enough for Arizona to turn a 49-47 deficit into a 58-54 lead.

There were just over five minutes left when Dunn reentered the second semifinal of the Wooden Legacy, and he proceeded to show everyone in the country why he was named the Preseason Player of the Year. Providence had nine possessions after he reentered the game. Dunn scored 11 points and had a pair of assists on those eight possessions, and if Ben Bentil had stuck a wide-open three — that was setup by Dunn — the Friars would have scored on all nine.

In total, Dunn was responsible for all 15 Friar points in a game-changing, 15-7 run in the final 4:30. It was capped off by this Kobe-in-his-prime-esque game-winner:

The win for Providence is huge for a couple of reasons:

  • Dunn showed a killer instinct against a marquee opponent, something that we didn’t necessarily see out of him a season ago. He wasn’t going to let his team lose, and given that Providence doesn’t have anyone else that can consistently create good shots, they are going to need that from him a lot this year.
  • It makes a statement for the Friars. Arizona is overrated at No. 11 in the country, yes, but going out on national television against an elite program and getting this kind of performance from Dunn is a confidence-booster and a tone-setter. Providence hasn’t been accustomed to winning in recent years. This is a way to set a trend.
  • Ben Bentil continues to play like a star. Dunn had 19 points and eight assists on Friday, but Bentil followed up a 24-point performance in the win over Evansville with 21 critical points on Friday.

This win sets up a matchup between No. 3 Michigan State and Providence on Sunday night, which means that Denzel Valentine and Kris Dunn — the two best players in the country, sorry Ben Simmons — will be going head-to-head.

Oh. Hell. Yes.

No. 14 Cal goes 0-2 in Las Vegas Invitational

Jaylen Brown
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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After midnight on the east coast on Thanksgiving, No. 14 Cal blew a 15 point second half lead against San Diego State, allowing the Aztecs to use a 30-6 run to put away the game and advance to the final of the Las Vegas Invitational. That’s the same San Diego State team had scored 43 points in a loss to Arkansas-Little Rock last week.

Not 24 hours later, the Golden Bears were shredded defensively by the Richmond Spiders, losing 94-90 in the consolation game of a four-team tournament they were considered to be the heavy favorite in.

It’s a disappointing two-game stretch for Cal, who entered the season as a Pac-12 favorite and had looked the part for the first four games of the season.

And the issue appears to be on the defensive end of the floor.

Richmond is a good Atlantic 10 team. Terry Allen and Marshall Wood are high-major big men, Shawn’Dre Jones is a jitterbug at the point and Chris Mooney runs a Princeton-esque system that is very difficult to prepare for without a day in-between games. So it’s not really surprising that the Spiders gave Cal a fight.

But 94 points?

On the heels of giving up 44 points in the second half against the offensively-challenged Aztecs?

That’s a problem, one that I’m sure that Cuonzo Martin is going to address this week in practice. Martin has managed to put together a roster that is build for small-ball, with four talented perimeter players surrounding a first round pick in the post. But that’s not the style that he’s known for. Martin played his college ball at Purdue in the Gene Keady days. He cut his teeth as a head coach at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. His team’s at Tennessee were known for being tough and physical defensively.

That’s how Martin coaches, which is part of the reason Cal had such hype entering the year.

The talents of Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews on a team with a coach that gets teams to defend the way Martin does? It’s no surprise that pundits would be optimistic.

But as of now, they have some work to do defensively if they want to live up to that hype.