After watching my bracket being summarily demolished by the likes of Davidson, Villanova and Butler, I have a hard time agreeing with the Nike Sparq ads that 'there are no Cinderalla's'.
Granted I don't know anything about those teams, but I do know one thing from watching them prevail over their supposedly superior opponents: there really is no 'I' in TEAM.
At the beginning of the year when the college basketball community was told that K-State's No. 1 recruiting class would stay intact under the tuteledge of first-year coach Frank Martin, the buzz was not if the Wildcats would make the NCAA Tournament, but how far they would advance once they did.
After a strong conference start, the 'Cats appeared to be on track to meet or exceed everyone's expectations but their own. However a weak showing in the second half of conference play left the young team squarely on the bubble.
In my opinion, the Wildcats could've gone 8-8 and still have gotten in, solely because of Michael Beasley. Regardless, an at-large bid landed the Wildcats in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in over a decade, only now the talk had switched from 'how far will they go' to 'how long can they last'.
And by 'they', I only assume every sportswriter in the nation meant 'Michael Beasley'.
11th-seeded Kansas State scored one of the first upsets of the tournament when it up-ended sixth-seeded USC and one-time possible teammate O.J. Mayo—Mayo was recruited by DaLonte Hill and played high school basketball with Bill Walker.
K-State's second-round matchup was a different story.
Pitted against Bo Ryan's overwhelmingly team-minded Badgers, the Wildcats 'died by the three', going 0-13 on the night and only 35 percent from the field in the second half. The Badgers, on the other hand, seemed as if they couldn't miss from beyond-the-arc, shooting over 40 percent and 52 percent from the field for the game.
Michael Beasley and Bill Walker still got theirs, putting up 23 and 18, respectively. Yet, the rest of the team put on a performance that Wildcats fans are all too familiar with: scoring a measly 14 points between the 11 other men who laced up and played—proving, once again, that not even the tandem of Michael Beasley and Bill Walker can win a championship alone.
Whether or not Michael Beasley will leave for the NBA remains to be seen, but I have to assume he will go—I know I would if I was virtually guaranteed to be the first pick in the draft.
Additionally, Bill Walker could probably go in the second round based on
atheleticism alone. If he stays another year, there's no doubt in my mind he's a first-rounder. So, for the sake of argument, let's examine the Wildcats of 2009 with Walker, sans Beasley:
Jacob Pullen is my favorite player on this team. He's the first true point guard K-State has had in several years and can dribble-drive with the best guards in the nation. He was the reason K-State beat KU, not Beasley—he protected the ball from the prolific thiefs that are Russell Robinson and Mario Chalmers and should continue to handle the
ball for the Wildcats for another three years.
Dominique Sutton is a bit of an enigma to me. He knocked down a huge three in the win against USC, but has failed to present himself as a consistent offensive threat. His prowess on defense, however, is undeniable. I see in Dominique Sutton the reincarnation of Akeem Wright, himself a terriffic defender. If Sutton can develop his perimeter game, but more importantly his jump-shot, he will be a dangerous weapon
for the Wildcats.
Andre Gilbert has given Frank Martin solid minutes this year, crashing the boards and defending tough opponents like Brandon Rush. He, like Sutton, is a defensive specialist. Unlike Sutton, Gilbert has shown that he can also be productive on the other end of the floor. A Juco transfer, Gilbert has one more year in which he will be a very important tool for Frank Martin.
The person I'm most excited to see, mainly because he hasn't played yet, is Jamar Samuels. In pre-game warmups, the 6'8" Samuels has the most spectacular dunks that I've ever seen. How his mad ups and athleticism translate into Big 12 productivitiy remains to be seen, but he should be an exciting addition to the Wildcats squad.
Losing Clent Stewart and Blake Young will leave the Wildcats for want of a shooting guard, but Denis Clemente and Fred Brown should help fill the void.
Brown has seen limited play this year and has an ugly yet effective shot; from what I've seen of Clemente, he should fit in nicely to K-State's guard-heavy offense as someone who can help Pullen handle the ball and knock down the perimeter shot on a kick-out. Mark my words—Blake Young will be missed the most from this year's losses, Michael Beasley included.
Without Beasley in the middle, many might think the 'Cats would be anemic at the post. I, on the other hand, am giddy with excitement to see Ron Anderson get consistent playing time. He had a huge game against USC and if Frank Martin can keep Luis Colon on the bench, or better yet-off the roster, Ron will be a force to reckon with.
At 6'8" 245, and with NBA blood, look for Ron to make his presence felt for several years. A great compliment to Ron is junior Darren 'The White Tiger' Kent. 6'11" makes Darren the tallest person on K-State's team, but at 210 he's a little scrawny. Despite his lanky appearance, DK has scrapped and fought for rebounds all year long, is an exceptional passer, and will only improve the Wildcats' inside game.
People say I'm crazy when I tell them I think the Wildcats are better off without Beasley in the lineup, but let me justify my statement. No one on K-State's team can produce the way Mike has so prolifically. He's a future NBA All-Star and an incredible talent, possibly one of the greatest players in the last fifty years.
However, I would much rather sacrifice his 20-odd double-doubles for balanced play from three others. A Wildcat team without Beasley would be forced to play together instead of being forced to get him the ball. Perhaps an actual offense would take the place of the frantic pursuit of a Beasley basket.
After all, it's a lot harder to guard five guys than just one. Frank Martin's ability to coach would be much more apparent and I think that he will thrive in a post-Beasley coaching environment. It is in this environment that players like Jacob Pullen, Ron Anderson, and Dominique Sutton can develop into the thing K-State wasn't this year—a team.
Look for the Wildcats to fly under the radar without Beasley, but my money says they will be a team poised to make a deeper run come next March.