Talent alone won’t always win you basketball games. Team chemistry is huge, and it goes much deeper than the notion many have of whether or not players like each other. When team chemistry is volatile, underachieving is almost inevitable. Then the only solution is often a housecleaning.
Enter the 2015-16 Kansas State Wildcats, who are now 6-1 after eking out a 68-66 win at Georgia on Friday night and have as many true road wins this season as they had all of last season.
Kansas State was a team that held on to NCAA Tournament hope perhaps a little longer than they deserved last season. They were 7-6 in non-conference play, but those losses included games at Long Beach State and Texas Southern. And while the former wasn’t a bad team, the reality is that the 49ers finished the season with a losing record (16-17), aided by their very tough non-conference schedule. Then in Big 12 play, they lost five straight and six of seven, but with two wins over Oklahoma as well as wins over Baylor, Kansas and Iowa State, there was perhaps a slim hope that they could make a run in the Big 12 Tournament and reach the Big Dance.
That didn’t happen, of course. After an 8-10 finish in conference play, the Wildcats lost to TCU for the second time, ending their season. They were 15-17. Then came the housecleaning, as head coach Bruce Weber dismissed Marcus Foster and Malek Harris, two key players, and in all six players were lost over the year. That left them with five scholarship players returning for this season.
The Wildcats are 6-1, but their best win is Friday night’s win at Georgia. In their prior game, they beat South Carolina State by the exact same score. They lost to North Carolina in the CBE Classic in their only real chance at a resume-building win, and the remainder of the non-conference schedule doesn’t seem to have much in the way of such opportunities – next Saturday’s trip to College Station to play Texas A&M is the only other one even close, unless you think the following one against Colorado State qualifies as well, which is debatable at best.
It’s still early yet, and this team hasn’t been truly tested much. Whether or not the light schedule designed to build confidence works out remains to be seen. Right now, though, it looks like Kansas State has a chance to be one more example of the importance of things other than talent for a basketball team. They cleaned house and appear to be better off.
In the most noteworthy matchup of the evening, UNLV rode some hot early shooting to a big lead, then held off a valiant Oregon rally to beat the Ducks 80-69 at MGM Grand in Las Vegas. While UNLV improves to 7-1 and handed Oregon their first loss of the season, the bigger story in this game for the Ducks pertains to an injury. In the second half, talented freshman guard Tyler Dorsey went for a rebound, and upon coming down got entangled with a UNLV player. His left knee then bent in a direction it isn’t supposed to, and even the UNLV bench reacted in such a way that you knew it wasn’t good. Dorsey was helped to the bench, putting no weight on that leg, and at this point one can only hope that it’s a case of something looking worse than it is.
Wake Forest blew a 14-point deficit, then got a late three-pointer to beat Arkansas 88-85 in Winston-Salem. The Demon Deacons snapped and eight-game losing streak against SEC opponents.
Pittsburgh rode a double-double from Michael Young (20 points, 11 rebounds) to a 96-75 victory over Duquesne in a city rivalry.
The MAAC has some early conference games this weekend, and included in that action is Monmouth, who has made some noise with wins over UCLA and Notre Dame and a close loss to Dayton in the semifinal of the AdvoCare Invitational. If that raised what you expect from the Hawks in conference play, then you were disappointed on Friday night as they lost 96-86 at Canisius. Canisius, who had six players score in double figures (all between 10 and 14 points), ran out to a 53-37 halftime lead and held on.
It’s a busy day with a lot of games on tap, and quite a few worth watching.
- Early on, an old Big East rivalry is on tap as Syracuse visits Georgetown (1 pm), though it won’t feel the same with Jim Boeheim not on the Syracuse bench.
- Virginia hosts a William & Mary team that has proven they can beat a good team (2 pm).
- Purdue hosts New Mexico in an intriguing matchup at 2:15 pm Eastern.
- Harvard travels to Kansas for their biggest test of the season thus far (3:15 pm).
- At the same time is perhaps the game of the day, as Gonzaga hosts Arizona in a matchup that was a dandy last season.
- At 4 pm is a matchup that might not catch your eye at first, but it is of historic interest as two Hispanic head coaches lead their teams with USF visiting South Carolina.
- Providence head coach Ed Cooley might not think so, and one can understand why, but Rhode Island hosts Cooley’s Friars in a rivalry game in the evening (7 pm).
- The big mid-major matchup of the day has Evansville visiting Murray State (8:30 pm).
- Some other intriguing matchups include Bucknell at NC State (noon), Temple at Wisconsin (12:30 pm), IPFW at Utah (2 pm), North Florida at Dayton (2 pm), California at Wyoming (3 pm), Weber State at Brigham Young (3 pm), Ole Miss at UMass in Springfield (4 pm), Oral Roberts at Tulsa (4 pm), Nevada at Oregon State (4 pm) and Northern Iowa at Richmond (6 pm).