SE: Offensive Versatility on Display Early for K-State MBB

It seems wherever K-State head men’s basketball coach Bruce Weber goes, he’s reminded of his team’s strength. Five games in Europe this summer and weeks of practice before the season were early indicators. Now after a few regular season games, others are starting to catch on.  

Compared to last season, K-State’s arsenal of scoring weapons is deeper, more experienced and highly versatile.  

“I went to Panera (Saturday) night to get some soup for my wife and the lady at the checkout said, ‘My dad and I were watching the game and you guys have so much versatility, so many weapons. It’s going to be hard to scout,’” Weber said after his team beat Hampton, 89-67, on Sunday in Bramlage Coliseum in the opening round of the Barclays Center Classic to improve to 3-0. “It was a great point. I told our players that should be our strength, one of the things we take pride in.” 

So far, it has been. 

The Wildcats (3-0) have had four double-digit scorers in each of their three victories, marking the first time K-State has opened the season with three such games since 2011-12. Under Weber, K-State is 32-8 when at least four players score in double figures. 

“With this team, we have a lot to offer and we can score in a lot of different ways. Like Coach Weber always says, we’re very versatile in scoring,” said K-State senior Wesley Iwundu, averaging 18 points a game after matching his career high of 23 against Hampton. “We have a lot of different options and should be tough to scout for different teams. I think if we keep this up throughout the year, we’ll be tough to play and we’ll always be competitive.”

Sophomore Barry Brown has hit double digits in all three games so far, posting point totals of 15, 18 and 16. Fellow sophomore Kamau Stokes has also surpassed 10 points in each regular season game, knocking in 6-of-11 (55 percent) from beyond the arc in the process. Freshman Xavier Sneed has brought life off the bench, averaging 13.3 points a game on 57 percent shooting. 

Senior forward D.J. Johnson, who Weber said he wants to get the ball to more, posted 11 points against Omaha. Sophomore Dean Wade, who averaged 9.9 points a game as a freshman, took a step forward with eight points on four shot attempts against Hampton. 

“We have versatile guys,” Weber said, “and that’s our strength.” 

The Wildcats have certainly been versatile in who is scoring the basketball, but they have also been in how they are scoring it. 

With a healthy Stokes and improved guards in senior Carlbe Ervin II and Brown, the Wildcats have looked to push the pace more. As a result, K-State has scored 40 fast break points in three games. 

“We have a lot of people that can push the basketball,” Weber said. “A year ago when Kam goes down, we didn’t have anyone to bring it up and push it. Now Wes is more confident, Barry has gotten better, Carlbe can do it and Kam, so I think that’s harder to stop when you have a lot of people pushing it, and if you can spread people out and shoot the ball well, that helps too.”

The Wildcats have succeeded in that phase of the offense as well. K-State has knocked down 47.5 percent (29-of-61) from beyond the arc, highlighted by going 12-for-23 against Hampton to mark the program’s most 3-point makes in a game since 2013. 

“We’re a better 3-point shooting team. The big thing is getting good ones,” Weber said. “One, it’s been getting in the gym and really working at it, putting time into it, but it’s also moving the ball and getting good shots, executing your offense so you get a good shot that you can step up and make with confidence.” 

The Wildcats, who were last in the Big 12 last season in 3-point percentage, rank seventh nationally through three games this season. Of K-State’s five players with six or more 3-point attempts, four are shooting 50 percent or better. 

“It’s a great feeling,” said Iwundu, 5 of 8 from beyond the arc after hitting only six all of last season. “Shots are falling right now and our confidence is pretty high. We just want to maintain that, stay level-headed, stay in the gym and keep getting better.”

K-State will look to maintain its strong offensive start when it hosts Robert Morris (0-4) on Tuesday at 7 p.m., in the second game of the Barclays Center Classic. 

Iwundu said he wants to see consistency on Tuesday before the Wildcats’ competition takes a step up, as they will play Boston College (2-1) in Brooklyn, New York, on Friday at 6 p.m., followed by either Maryland (4-0) or Richmond (2-1) on Saturday.  

“Consistency, doing all of the things we’ve been doing this year to make us successful going into Brooklyn,” Iwundu said. “We do have two big games coming up, we know they’re very important and we’re just looking to make a statement on this trip. This is a business trip for us. We want to go out there, win some games and come back feeling good about ourselves.” 

K-State will play three games in five days, a test in itself, but players will have the luxury of a week without classes because of Thanksgiving break. 

“We get a lot more rest than on a normal day when we have to walk around for class,” Sneed said. “That helps us out a lot.”

Weber said this week would be a true test to gauge the team’s progress.  

“I told them this is championship week,” he said. “Can we make the next step? I talked to them since day one that we had to prepare for this week, to be ready for whatever they throw at us, to be ready to play four games in a week. This is a good, good test.”