Marcus Foster, Jeff Mullahey

The most surprising team in the country: Kansas State

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I think there’s a valid argument to be made that Kansas State is the most surprising team in the country, and it’s not because their expectations entering the season were so low that a 13-4 start overall, a 3-1 start in Big 12 play and home wins over Gonzaga, George Washington, Oklahoma State and — after Tuesday night’s 72-66 victory — Oklahoma.

It’s because a Kansas State team expected to be NIT-bound and finish in the bottom half of the Big 12 started out the season with a loss at home to Northern Colorado and a 1-2 performance in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, losing to Charlotte and following that up with a 27-point drubbing at the hands of Georgetown.

Thanksgiving had yet to come and go and just about everyone was ready to write this off as a rebuilding year for the Wildcats.

But then they started winning.

Ten straight, to be exact, and 11 of their last 12, the lone loss being an ugly loss at Phog Allen Fieldhouse.

The Wildcats have done it with defense. According to, Kansas State has been a top 15 team nationally in terms of defensive efficiency despite getting blown out by both Kansas and Georgetown. They run you off the three-point line, they force you out of the sets you want to run and they do a fair job of forcing turnovers. Get a bit better clearing the defensive glass, and you’re looking at a team that’s elite on that end of the floor.

The issue is scoring. The Wildcats don’t have a lot of real offensive weapons. Marcus Foster’s emergence has been enormous, giving the Wildcats a go-to guy in half court sets, but beyond Foster, there really isn’t much creativity on that end of the floor. That’s what makes the addition of Jevon Thomas so important. He can get in the lane off of the dribble, which is something that Kansas State is lacking.

The next step for Thomas is actually taking advantage of getting into the paint. Right now, the freshman is shooting 30.2% from the floor and just 5-for-17 from the line. Keep in mind, he’s only played six games at this level, so he hasn’t found a rhythm just yet.

If he can find a way to be a consistent scorer, to take some of the defensive focus away from Foster, the Wildcats have a chance to be pretty good. We’re probably not looking at a team that will compete for the Big 12 title, but sneaking their way into the top four isn’t out of the question.

Clemson lands 2017 guard

Brad Brownell
AP Photo
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Clemson landed a quality commitment on Tuesday as Class of 2017 guard A.J. Oliver committed to the Tigers. The son of Clemson women’s head coach Audra Smith, Oliver is regarded as a three-star prospect, according to Rivals, although some others view him as a top-100 caliber player.

The 6-foot-4 Oliver attends nearby Daniel High School and should have some time to get acclimated with the players and coaches before he sets foot on campus. A versatile guard who plays hard, Oliver showed that he can make plays with the ball in his hands this summer with the Upward Stars.

Oliver is Clemson’s first commitment in the Class of 2017 and it’s a strong start for head coach Brad Brownell.

Arizona’s Tarczewski out 4-to-6 weeks

Kaleb Tarczewski, Sean Miller
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Arizona will be without senior center Kaleb Tarczewski for 4-to-6 weeks, the school announced on Tuesday. The 7-foot Tarczewski suffered a stress reaction and strained muscle to his left foot and he’ll have some time to heal before the main portion of the Pac-12 conference schedule.

The experienced Tarczewski was averaging 8.6 points and 7.2 rebounds per game before going down with injury. Without the senior in the lineup, Arizona fell to Providence in the Wooden Legacy last week. Without Tarczewski in the lineup, the Wildcats could turn to center Dusan Ristic while forward Ryan Anderson has had some solid outings this season.

Missing Tarczewski for the rest of non-conference play will hurt but he’ll get to rest and recover for the stretch run while the Wildcats can mix in some new frontcourt pieces.