When Frank Martin left Kansas State in 2012 to coach South Carolina — which has been severely disappointing so far — coach Bruce Weber didn’t miss a step with the Wildcats.
Coming off a successful stint at Illinois, Weber’s first season at K-State ended in a share of the Big 12 title with Kansas. Things looked like they were heading in the right direction.
Weber’s first season at Illinois was similarly successful and he followed that with a Final Four appearance in 2005. But history hasn’t repeated itself in a different location. Rather, things have gone down the tubes for the Wildcats.
Expectations can be dangerous.
Had Weber struggled to keep Martin’s program running straight out of the gate, there may be more forgiveness. But having missed the NCAA tournament the past two seasons with a losing record doesn’t look good for Weber entering his fifth season in Manhattan.
There are a few contributing factors to that perception.
For starters, the Big 12 simply wasn’t as deep four years ago as it is today.
The Big 12 has sent seven teams to the tournament in each of the past three seasons. Compare that to five tickets punched in Weber’s first season — and only three teams ranked in the final AP poll. Even more damning, the conference ranked fifth in both strength of schedule and the simple rating system in 2013 compared to top-ranked finishes since then.
The conference has exploded with talent while the Wildcats have remained the same.
Talent has come and gone, never being overhauled by Weber like what we’ve seen at programs such as Iowa State and West Virginia.
Martin left Weber with a fair amount of talent, mainly leading scorer Rodney McGruder and Will Spradling playing at guard. As a senior, McGruder was a key component in the Wildcats’ Big 12 title run, scoring 15.6 points and 5.4 rebounds per game to lead the team once again.
The following year, he was replaced by freshman phenom Marcus Foster, but the furthest the team could go was one game in the tournament. Aside from Foster, that 2013-14 team was largely constructed by Martin.
The following seasons are far more telling of what has gone wrong in the Weber era.
With Foster as the centerpiece moving forward, things took a turn for the worst when he was dismissed from the program after his sophomore season. It was a lesson of tough love that surely points to Weber’s commitment to upholding a standard for his student-athletes, but ultimately it was detrimental to the team’s success on the hardwood.
Since Weber took over, the highlight of his recruiting classes was his first year in town. That 51st ranked class included Foster and Jevon Thomas. Foster was dismissed, of course, while Thomas decided to transfer away from K-state following his sophomore season.
Losing those two cornerstones put the program behind the eight-ball.
Freshmen classes that have ranked 52nd, 74th, and 72nd in recruiting rankings haven’t made things any easier for Weber, especially considering those significant departures. He has solely relied on turning under-recruited talent into playmakers, but he has never truly succeeding in finding that gem capable of turning the corner.
Players like Wesley Iwundu and Dean Wade have been serviceable and had starring roles, but relative to the rest of the conference, haven’t had as great an impact. Now Weber has an intriguing three-star talent in Xaxier Sneed coming in, and he’s possibly the last chance for the Wildcasts to turn things around — at least under Weber.
If this is another season with the Wildcats just meeting expectations, it’s reasonable to think change is on the horizon.