A traditional pre-season top 25? They’re fairly ubiquitous this time of year. Everyone has one, but from Duke to Mississippi Valley State and in between, there’s a lot of intriguing teams for the upcoming college basketball season.
In ascending order of squads that pique our interest, our list consists of teams with a rare chance to make noise, have a lot to prove, quirky schedules, or are just named Kentucky.
Follow along. Story lines aren’t just for the nation’s elite.
An elite recruiter with an unrivaled passion for the game, Frank Martin has morphed Kansas State into a budding powerhouse in three short years. Over that span the scowl-friendly coach has won 72 games, reached two NCAA Tournaments and taken home the Big 12 Coach of the Year award. More importantly, Martin's Wildcats also ended a 22-year drought by advancing to the Elite Eight this past spring. That cliche about the sky being the limit would definitely apply here.
But even with the city of Manhattan ready to burst at the seams, Kansas State still can't manage to settle the score with their hated rivals. After all, it was Kansas who knocked off the Wildcats on three separate occasions last season. And, rather remarkably, the Jayhawks have now won 33 of 35 games in the series dating back to 1996 (the beginning of the Big 12). So really, is this a rivalry or an utter domination? We hate to say it, but the evidence leans towards the latter.
Thankfully, the return of enigmatic guard Jacob Pullen kept KSU in the discussion as a preseason title contender. Pullen is a legit 20 point scorer who loves to step up and take every conceivable big shot in high pressure situations. The loss of slasher Denis Clemente allows Pullen to grab the reigns of this offense on a nightly basis from the point guard position. As long as he can cut down on the turnovers, we like the preseason All-American candidate to dazzle often and keep Kansas State in the top ten all year long.
What happened this summer?
Pullen and his beard put the NBA on hold. The senior was later chosen for the USA Men's Select Team. Martin added five recruits, including four star local prospect Nino Williams. Wildcat teammates reminisced about Clemente's unique skill-set.
Games that really matter
- 11/16 vs. Virginia Tech
- 11/22 vs. Gonzaga
- 12/3 @ Washington State
- 12/18 vs. Florida
- 12/21 vs. UNLV
- 1/17 @ Missouri
- 1/22 @ Texas A&M
- 1/24 vs. Baylor
- 1/29 @ Kansas
- 2/12 @ Colorado
- 2/14 vs. Kansas
- 2/28 @ Texas
Most intriguing player(s)
Rodney McGruder and Nick Russell (6'4" guards; sophomores) – It makes perfect sense for Pullen to shift over and run the point full-time, but the success of that move hinges on whether KSU can find somebody to step up and fill Clemente's shoes. For the near future, that task belongs to a duo of inexperienced sophomores in McGruder and Russell. A pair of top 150 signees from Martin's '09 recruiting class, both of these combo guards saw limited action during their first year on campus. The hope is that at least one of these kids will be able to carry the offense for stretches like Clemente did. McGruder certainly has more potential and is the safer bet to emerge as the team's No. 2 scoring option, however there are more questions than answers surrounding this duo at the moment.
What’s on the line?
Keep in mind that Kansas State has never won a Big 12 regular season title or a Big 12 Tournament. Their last Final Four appearance was 46 years ago, despite the fact that it feels like Martin is constantly taking this program into uncharted waters. Above all else, the Wildcats proved that they don't need to beat that pesky Kansas bunch in order to achieve postseason success. A season split with the Jayhawks would be lovely considering the circumstances, but regular season meetings shouldn't matter for a team eying the ultimate prize.
Call it a 60-year reunion. That's how long it's been since Kansas State reached their only NCAA title game. And with a crowd-pleasing point guard and a made-for-cable head coach headlining the 2010-11 version, we're crazy enough to chug all of the available Kool-Aid on this team heading into the year. The forward trio of Curtis Kelly, Wally Judge and Jamar Samuels is really what seals the deal in our opinion. A conference championship might only be the beginning. Big things are on the way. Just need to watch out for those Dukies.
- Conference: 1st
- Postseason: NCAA Championship Game (runners-up)