The Kansas State Wildcats had to pull a large 2020 recruiting class. Some of it was based on the need for talent. Some of it was based on losing players to transfer. But it HAD to be that way. And now that class HAS to play.
K-State lost three players to eligibility after the 2019-20 season. Six other players transferred. A Division I basketball program lost nine players in one cycle. It’s almost too insane to contemplate.
So the Wildcats built an immense class — seven players in all. And as they prepare to open the 2020-21 Big 12 season against Iowa State tonight, head coach Bruce Weber has to continue to give this young, crowded class more playing time.
Senior Mike McGuirl, the only multi-year vet of any significance, leads the team in scoring with 14.6 points per game. His ascension has been a long time coming. But he needs help. For the moment, he won’t get it from forward Kaosi Ezeagu (7.5 points with 3.5 rebounds), who sat out last year as a transfer, and forward Montavious Murphy, a holdover from the 2019 class. Both are out with knee injuries.
So get used to more lineups such as the one Bruce Weber played against Milwaukee — heavy on guards and heavy on youth. Four guards and three true freshmen started in that win over the Panthers.
“When we signed this group, we felt really good about the group,” Weber said after the win over Milwaukee. “But in our mind, they weren’t going to be the starters. They were mostly going to be the backups. We lost some guys. Some things happened. Even now with Kaosi and Monty, even Antonio (Gordon) was out a couple of days this week. Those freshmen rose up and took a step, and now we gotta keep them moving forward.”
After six games, here’s where that 2020 recruiting class stands:
Guard Nijel Pack, a freshman who was basically the centerpiece of the class, the No. 101 recruit in the nation, is the team’s second-leading scorer with 10.3 points per game. He’s started in all six contests and has averaged 4.2 rebounds and nearly 4 assists per game. Plus, he’s connecting at a 44.8 percent clip from the 3-point line. If you’re talking about the future of K-State basketball, he might just be it.
Freshman guard Selton Miguel made his first start against Milwaukee last week and had a solid outing — 17 points, 3 rebounds and 1 assist — pushing his season averages to 7.2 points and 2.0 rebounds per game. Will he get another start tonight against ISU? I’d put a lock on it.
Junior Rudi Williams was a late get, as the junior college recruit from Northeastern Oklahoma A&M was 247sports.com’s No. 4 juco player nationally and pushed the entire class up into the Top 40. He hasn’t started yet, but the guard came off the bench to score 16 points against Milwaukee and is now averaging 6.3 points per game.
Freshman Davion Bradford out of St. Louis, Missouri, is a 7-footer, and Weber and the Wildcats will take the height with Ezeagu and Murphy both out. Bradford has started two games and played in all six, scoring 5.5 points and grabbing 2.5 rebounds per game.
Freshman forward Seyree Lewis and sophomore center Carlton Linguard Jr. (who signed out of Temple College) have played a combined 28 minutes and haven’t made much of an impact to this point.
The only member of the class that hasn’t played yet is guard Luke Kasubke, who had foot surgery in September and, at the moment, there is no timetable for his return. I’d count on him redshirting at this point.
Weber is seeking to blend the new talent with what he had returning, and while it wasn’t just McGuirl, he was dealing in small numbers. Along with Ezeagu and Murphy, two other recruits from the 2019 Class returned — guards DaJuan Gordon and Antonio Gordon.
DaJuan Gordon has had a significant impact. Gordon, like McGuirl and Pack, has started all six games and is the team’s third-leading scorer with 9.2 points per game. Antonio Gordon, a player I pegged as one to watch going into this season, has played in all six games and started four, but has only averaged 3.3 points per game.
So entering the Iowa State game, Weber’s starting lineup figures to resemble the Milwaukee starting lineup — Bradford in the pivot, with Miguel, Pack, DaJuan Gordon and McGuirl on the outside.
This is a multi-year rebuilding job ahead for Weber. Last year’s losses, plus this year’s injuries, have paved the way for him to fully embrace this youth movement. He’ll have to be patient. So will K-State fans. And he’ll have to make sure these guys stick around a while.
If so, this might just be the start of the Wildcats’ movement back into the thick of the Big 12 Conference.
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