Kevin Haskin: Next K-State AD deserves chance to evaluate basketball

Slight gain under Weber must be lead to additional improvement next season

Kansas State head coach Bruce Weber directs his players from the bench in the first half of a First Four game of the NCAA college basketball tournament against Wake Forest, Tuesday, March 14, 2017, in Dayton, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Kansas State reached the NCAA Tournament loitering on the threshold of the event in the First Four.


The Wildcats advanced into the conventional bracket, but a decisive first-round loss against Cincinnati makes the foothold for Bruce Weber at K-State slippery still.

Oh, their third NCAA appearance in five seasons under Weber came after recording three victories against opponents ranked in the top 10.

Their sixth-place finish in the Big 12 exceeded polling of the league coaches by three spots.

They managed a 20-win season with three sophomores in the starting lineup and two freshmen as key contributors off the bench.

Still, the decline K-State experienced the previous two seasons, when it failed to reach the postseason altogether, was a stark contrast to the Cats’ consistent presence under Frank Martin.

Both Martin, and in one short year Bob Huggins, elevated Kansas State basketball. Maybe to a position where K-State belongs. Maybe beyond that level. That much is debatable.

Yet their forceful personalities provided an identity fans embraced.

The toughness the Wildcats possessed became the brand they owned, free of a Play Hard chart.

But Martin left after five seasons and a fourth NCAA bid, for South Carolina.

Enter Weber, who has now been at K-State just as long.

John Currie, the former athletic director who made the hire after meddling with Martin — understandable to an extent because of Frank’s fiery behavior, but still, know when to leave well enough alone — hurriedly placed his new coach front and center.

Weber still settled in and guided the Cats to a Big 12 crown in 2013, their first conference title since 1977 under Jack Hartman. The next season K-State dropped off, but easily reached the NCAA Tournament again. Both times, however, the Cats lost in the first round.

Against Cincinnati, the Cats bowed out in the first round again as the last participant to draw an at-large berth into the NCAA Tournament. Their tourney bid, as an 11-seed, can be considered progress over the last two seasons.

The slight gain, however, is not proof the Cats are destined to move forward again next season. That will depend on improvement after carrying no scholarship juniors on this year’s roster.

In addition, the Cats must show greater consistency, which they lacked from game to game, and sometimes half to half.

Another dilemma is what level of expectation is feasible for Kansas State basketball.

Before this year’s play-in victory under Weber, only one of six coaches, Martin, had won an NCAA Tournament game with the Wildcats since Lon Kruger coached them to four straight bids from 1986-90. During the last 27 years, K-State attained nine bids.

Banners hang in Bramlage Coliseum representing four Final Four appearances. The last, however, was achieved in 1964 under Tex Winter. In the 50-plus years since then, K-State has played in six regional finals. In addition, K-State has one league title in the last 40 years, and shared it with Kansas.

Yes, Kansas — that rival so many want K-State to stack up against like it did ages ago under Hartman, Winter and Jack Gardner. That era, however, went the way of the set shot. For perspective, KU is making a record 28th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. K-State has 29 appearances all-time.

At what looms to be a critical juncture in K-State athletics, the magical fix is not to replace Weber just yet, though the discontent is understandable from a faction that has grown over time.

In general, Weber struggles in late-game situations, carries little influence with referees and does not recruit to the level necessary to build a consistent winner.

Yet he got this year’s team to overachieve (based on polling) in a tough league, and for a program that would not rank in the top half of the Big 12 in terms of its best jobs.

Comparisons to Martin are natural, but a bit unfair.

Martin got a year to apprentice at K-State under Huggins, one of the best college coaches ever. Martin got to know the history, the culture, the league and the players in his one season as an assistant. Few get that opportunity.

Even fewer get promoted to head coach with the nation’s top prospect (Michael Beasley) coming into the program. That was the start of a fertile pipeline that attracted among others, Jacob Pullen, who became the Cats’ all-time leading scorer.

To replicate all that would be difficult, if not impossible. Hiring Brad Underwood would be the closest thing to it, but Currie and K-State did not swing that deal and now Underwood is headed for Illinois after one season coaching Oklahoma State.

As for finances at K-State, university president Richard Myers recently cut $6 million from the university budget, because of declining enrollment and uncertainties with state funding. A bad optic is created when spending is excessive in athletics and restrictive on campus.

The best move for K-State is to sit tight with Weber, who has two years remaining on his contract, and give him a critical sixth year.

While he is unpopular with many fans, and has been uninspiring compared to his predecessor, K-State faces a more important task in replacing Currie. K-State should conceivably make that move by mid-April.

The new AD deserves the opportunity to thoroughly evaluate K-State basketball. Especially when a coaching move may require a bold move. Much like hiring Huggins.

Remember, too, the preservation of K-State football as it eventually transitions from legendary coach Bill Snyder is the utmost priority for the next AD.

Next season, K-State hoops should be viewed optimistically by coaches and players coming off an NCAA appearance.

In addition, it is realistic to assume Weber’s Wildcats will need to improve even more for him to remain as coach.

Contact Kevin Haskin at or @KevinHaskin on Twitter.



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