Kansas State basketball was a huge disappointment again this season. Players are already hitting the transfer portal with yesterday’s announcement by sophomore forward Antonio Gordon and a few more are likely to join him. The Wildcats won four of their last six games after a 13 game mid-season losing streak, most likely cementing Bruce Weber as the head basketball coach for at least one more season.
K-State gave Baylor a game in the Big 12 tournament before losing 74-68. Fan reaction after the game was bizarre, with Bruce Weber supporters flooding social media with messages of support for him and his players. If I hadn’t known better, I would have thought Kansas State had just won the national championship when in reality they had just lost in the second round of the Big 12 tournament. Heck, I figured the last two seasons might convince everyone remaining on the Weber bandwagon to jump off, but apparently not. K-State has an interesting fan base. Sure, there are reasons to keep this coach, but there are also plenty of reasons to move on and find someone better to lead the program going forward.
As a wrap-up to the basketball season, I’ll evaluate the coach with five reasons to keep Bruce Weber and five reasons to fire him.
Reasons to keep Bruce Weber
1) The future looks bright
Weber had one of the youngest teams in the country this season and his freshmen, led by Nijel Pack, Davion Bradford, and Selton Miguel played great down the stretch. Assuming this core group of players stays together, they will most likely continue to improve. How patient is the fan base willing to be as these freshmen develop? How long will it take to make the NCAA tournament again? Will they make it back at all? These are questions that remain to be answered.
2) Bruce Weber has won the Big 12 conference twice and made an Elite 8
People like to say that Bruce Weber won the Big 12 twice, but I sometimes correct them. Bruce Weber TIED for the Big 12 conference title twice. When Weber took over for Frank Martin in 2012, he taught the players on the roster how to run some offense and that, combined with the toughness, defense, and rebounding prowess that Martin instilled in them, was enough to win 14 conference games and tie Kansas for first place in the league standings. Even though they won 14 games, nobody would make the argument that K-State was the best team in the Big 12 that season because they lost to Kansas all three times that they played them.
Weber tied for the league lead with Texas Tech in 2018-19, again getting 14 wins. Neither team made the championship game in the Big 12 tournament, but Texas Tech went on a run in the NCAA tournament and made it to the championship game, while K-State lost in the first round to number 13 seed UC Irvine.
Fans of Bruce Weber point to the 2018 Elite 8 run as another reason to keep him as the coach. K-State was the eight seed in the tournament that year and a victory in the first round meant that they would likely play number one seed Virginia in the second round. In the most unlikely upset in NCAA tournament history, UMBC beat Virginia to advance to the second round. It remains the only time in tournament history that a 16 seed has beaten a number one seed. K-State beat UMBC in the second round by seven points and advanced to play Kentucky in the Sweet 16. In what I consider one of Bruce Weber’s biggest victories while coach at Kansas State, the Wildcats beat Kentucky 61-58 to advance to the Elite 8. They would eventually lose to Sister Jean and Loyola-Chicago 78-62. Skeptically, I think this Elite 8 run was a gift due to UMBC upsetting Virginia. K-State did beat Kentucky, so I give them a lot of credit for that, but I don’t think they would have made it that far if they had to play Virginia in the second round.
3) Bruce Weber does things the right way
It may sound funny to other fan bases, but K-State fans love to tout that they “do things the right way.” Whether the team wins or loses, some fans love to say “at least we don’t cheat.” Bruce Weber is a straight-laced “do it by the book” kind of a guy and coach. He runs a clean program and treats everyone around him the right way. This is an admirable quality in today’s world of college athletics.
4) K-State can’t get anyone better
This is something I disagree with, but a lot of K-State fans seem to think that Bruce Weber is the best that K-State basketball can do. They point to possible coaching candidates at other schools who are unproven and make the argument that Bruce Weber has had some success in Manhattan, while a new coaching staff is too much of an unknown. K-State’s basketball coaching tree is not even close to that of the football coaching tree, but I believe it’s the athletic director’s job to find the right candidate and the right fit for the job. It’s not the job of the fan base to rattle off a list of possible candidates and decide whether they can do better than Bruce Weber.
5) Bruce Weber beats ranked teams quite often
Weber has the uncanny ability to get his team to rise up and pull off some pretty big upsets. I wrote an article about this a few weeks back that involved doing some historical research into what happens when K-State basketball pulls off these upsets against ranked teams. It turns out that they don’t follow up those victories with anything of substance.
Reasons to fire Bruce Weber
1) Two 20-loss seasons in a row
The last two seasons of K-State basketball have been historically bad. In 2019-20 the team was 11-21 overall and 3-15 in the conference. This past season they were 9-20 overall and 4-14 in conference play. The team is very young and plays a lot of freshmen, but the reason they are young and inexperienced is a self-inflicted wound by Bruce Weber. There were a lot of defections off of the team at the end of the 2020 season, which forced him to recruit and play a lot of freshmen. It isn’t part of a master plan, it is a flaw in Bruce Weber’s method of doing business.
2) Recruiting remains a challenge
Is there help on the way for K-State basketball? It doesn’t appear so. According to 247Sports, the upcoming recruiting class ranks dead last in the Big 12 and 106th nationally. In 2020 they had the 6th rated class in the Big 12 and ranked 35th nationally. That’s the highest-rated class he’s had at K-State. His classes usually rank 8th, 9th, or 10th in the Big 12. He doesn’t recruit, or maybe can’t recruit, NBA-caliber talent, which is needed to consistently compete at the highest level in the league and the country.
3) Head-scratching losses
Bruce Weber teams are often ugly to watch, but every year they lose games that they should not lose. This past season it was a loss to division two Fort Hays State, not to mention a 48 point loss to Baylor, one of the worst losses in program history. For every victory against a ranked opponent, there is a head-scratching loss to accompany it.
4) Lack of tournament wins
Bruce Weber just finished his ninth season as head coach of Kansas State. He has made the NCAA tournament in five of those nine seasons. One of those five seasons K-State was selected to the first four after an 8-10 conference record and in two of the seasons he was 10-8 in the Big 12. He’s not exactly setting the world on fire. Let’s take the 2018 Elite 8 run out of the equation for a moment. In his four other NCAA tournament appearances, they got bounced out in the first round, including both years in which they “won” the Big 12.
5) His overall record is mediocre at best
Bruce Weber’s overall record at K-State is 170-130 and his conference record is 76-86 (.469). A lot of K-State fans call him “Mr. Mediocre” because his conference win/loss record always hovers around the .500 mark. After this season he sits at 10 games under “mediocre.”
If I had to add a sixth item, it would be what I call Bruce Weber’s personality flaws. He says strange things in press conferences. He has a ridiculous “play hard” chart that he references all of the time. He often rants and raves like a lunatic on the sideline during games. All of these flaws would be dismissed if he won more games, but they always come up in conversation so they cannot simply be ignored.
Most programs do not put up with mediocre coaches this long. For a recent example, Iowa State fired Steve Prohm this week. Prohm made three NCAA tournaments in six seasons with one Sweet 16 appearance and he won the Big 12 tournament twice. Two 20 loss seasons in a row and Iowa State had seen enough. With the K-State administration, Bruce Weber loses 20 games two seasons in a row and they are excited about the future. I’ll never understand this attitude of embracing mediocrity. The history and tradition of K-State basketball deserve better than this, but too many fans are happy with the status quo so Bruce Weber remains as head basketball for the foreseeable future. If you were the athletic director at Kansas State, what decision would you make? I know what I’d do.
*If you like what you’ve read from Joe Mathieu, find more on his personal K-State site: http://www.kstatejoe.com/*