Big 12 Basketball Countdown #5: Kansas State

USA TODAY Sports

The college basketball season officially gets underway this coming Friday, which is noteworthy for a number of different reasons, but in my case, it means that I better finish this damn countdown. Moving into the top half of the Big 12, it's time to take a look at the what I see as the 5th best team in the conference, Kansas State.

In Bruce Weber's first year in Manhattan, he led the Wildcats to a share of the league title (although K-State did get swept by Kansas), but a disappointing loss to La Salle in the NCAA tournament, in Kansas City no less, coupled with the offseason transfer of Angel Rodriquez has turned a promising start into a cloud of doubt. Rodriquez was actually one of three players to leave the K-State program, leaving this roster short on proven depth. And then there's that whole replacing Rodney McGruder thing. Yeah, 5th place sounds about right.

Unofficial Team Motto For 2013-2014

Finally, this is Spradling's team!

Who's Worth Knowing About

I only kid about Will Spradling. The kid takes far too much abuse in my opinion and he'd have a role on just about any other team in the conference. Spradling hasn't exactly materialized as the sharpshooter many thought he would become, but he did knock down a respectable 35.9% of his 3's a season ago.

Spradling should be solid as a senior, but it's fellow senior, Shane Southwell, that will be the lynch pin for this team. Mainly a rotational guy early in his career, Southwell became a dependable scorer as a junior and with McGruder and Rodriquez gone, he could be in store for a big time year. Whether he has that type of explosive scoring ability is yet to be seen, but as Weber's most proven offensive threat, he'll get his chances.

Inside, K-State will rely on Thomas Gipson to shoulder the scoring load, but the continued development of D.J. Johnson and Nino Williams is an intriguing storyline to watch. It's a solid trio, but are they capable of playing big time minutes?

Say Something Nice About Kansas State

As an Iowa State fan, I like to think that I know a thing or two about transfers and there's two quality guys that will be sitting this season out, but could make a nice impact next season and beyond. Brandon Bolden is a 6'11" monster inside that came to Manhattan from Georgetown. He was a 4-start recruit out of high school and will have three years of eligibility. Weber also brought in Maine transfer, Justin Edwards. As a sophomore, Edwards led the America East conference in scoring and was a guy that Fred Hoiberg was looking at, which is a pretty glowing endorsement.

And Now An Uncalled For Cheap Shot

So while the transfers look solid, the same can't be said about the guys Weber is bringing in from the prep ranks. I believe "meh" is the word I would use to describe the '13 class. Marcus Foster was a prolific scorer in high school and could be a diamond in the rough, but Weber has yet to bring in a guy that really moves the needle, leading some to ask if he's going to be able to attract high end talent.

Last Season Against Iowa State

The Cyclones prevailed over then #11 K-State in Ames, 73-67, in a highly entertaining, back and forth game. The highlight of the game, at least from the Iowa State side, was a tipped ball by Will Clyburn that miraculously stayed in bounds and led to a fast break dunk. Clyburn's 24 points and 10 rebounds led the way for Iowa State.

In Bramlage, K-State got their revenge and stayed alive for the conference championship, winning 77-70 behind 20-point efforts from McGruder and Rodriquez.

Why Kansas State Will Finish 5th

Southwell, Spradling and Gipson are all solid, but can any of them be stars? Can they go from role players to the guy? Southwell and Gipson stand the best chance for breakout seasons, but I wonder if either guy can consistently put it in the basket enough when it matters. This team will again hang its hat on defense, but I wonder if they can keep pace with the offenses of Kansas, Oklahoma State, Baylor and Iowa State.

I'm also concerned about what K-State will get from the guys that haven't seen much floor time. Omari Lawrence played sparingly last year but will likely see a much larger role as a senior. Of the freshmen, who's going to step up and play themselves into the rotation? Foster scored 13 points in K-State's exhibition win against Pittsburgh State and fellow freshman Nigel Johnson led K-State in scoring with 15 points.

By far, the biggest question is who replaces Rodriquez as this team's floor leader. With no proven point guard, I just can't put this team any higher than 5th.

And Now the Final Prediction

I think the Wildcats should be able to get to .500 in conference play, but is that going to be enough to get back in the Dance? The non-conference slate provides enough resume games with Georgetown, Ole Miss and Gonzaga on the schedule. K-State would be well-served to win at least one of those. If K-State can avoid bad losses and put together just enough quality wins, they could and maybe even should be okay. With Rodriquez, this team probably contends for the top three in the Big 12, but without, it will be life on the bubble in '13-'14.

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