Xavier Sneed’s final season with Kansas State Basketball was a disappointment. With their leading scorers gone, Bruce Weber and his squad will be forced to rebuild, but the future is bright for the Wildcats.
After enduring one of the most disappointing descensions in college basketball last season, Bruce Weber and Kansas State Basketball will have to undergo another year in the bottom half of the Big 12 before returning to success at the national level. Courtesy of a discouraging offseason, the Wildcats will be clawing from the ground up to be competitive, but there may be a star in the making at Kansas State.
Much of Kansas State’s recent success can be traced to the sensational Xavier Sneed, who arrived in Manhattan in 2016. By his sophomore season, Sneed became one of the three premier scorers for the Wildcats, helping lead the team to an unexpected Elite Eight run. Sneed was the leading scorer and rebounder in their upset win over Kentucky as well as in their loss to Loyola-Chicago.
Similar success followed the next year with a 25-9 overall record, again with Sneed as a focal point, as the Wildcats won a share of the Big 12 regular-season title with Texas Tech. Although they would lose to UC Irvine in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, there was still optimism for the 2019-20 season, particularly as Sneed entered his final season.
After four straight wins to open the season, all went wrong for the Wildcats. Back-to-back losses in late November to Pittsburgh and Bradley would turn out to be just two of the 21 losses to come. Kansas State would only pick up six more wins throughout the rest of the regular season, capturing a seventh with an upset victory over TCU in the first round of the Big 12 tournament.
The COVID-19 pandemic would halt any further opportunity for the Wildcats to amass any success, however, as they finished the year at 11-21 – Weber’s worst record as a head coach in 22 seasons, and just his third losing season ever.
Sneed graduating is a difficult enough situation for Bruce Weber to recover from, but there are further problems at hand. Makol Mawien, the team’s third-leading scorer, also graduated. On top of that, at least six players – including the team’s second-leading scorer, Cartier Diarra, have all transferred out. Mike McGuirl, the highest remaining scorer for the Wildcats at 6.9 points per game, will be expected to step up.
Newcomers for Kansas State Basketball
McGuirl will not be alone, however. Weber and his staff are bringing in the 35th-best recruiting class in the country and sixth highest in the Big 12, according to 247sports. The standout of the crop is four-star recruit Nijel Pack, a 5-10 point guard out of Lawrence Central in Indianapolis. Pack is a sneakily athletic guard with a good-looking shot and a slick handle.
Also joining the Wildcats is UTEP transfer Kaosi Ezeagu, eligible for the first time this coming semester. The trio of McGuirl, Pack, and Ezeagu will all be looked to fill the holes left by Sneed, Mawien, and Diarra.
That is easier said than done – and although McGuirl will enter his final season at Kansas State, the opportunity to lay the groundwork for Ezeagu and Pack to take over for the future is as invaluable as anything else.
Kansas State fans should not be alarmed, nor should they expect the Wildcats to be world-beaters this season. This is very much a rebuilding year for Weber and his squad. Sneed, Mawien, and Diarra were the only Wildcats to rank in the top 15 of any statistic in the Big 12 last season, and all three are now gone.
Undeniably, this is an uphill climb for Kansas State.
But if the 2018 NCAA tournament run is any indication, Weber has proven that he knows how to utilize his roster’s talent to its fullest extent. While that run was aided by UMBC’s win over Virginia, I do not think most college basketball fans – myself included – believed Kansas State would knock off Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen. We were wrong.
While KSU undoubtedly underachieved last year – especially with Sneed – there is not much reason for concern. This is a Wildcat squad that will most likely finish last in the Big 12 again this coming season, but this is also a team that should find themselves in the middle-of-the-pack or upper half of the Big 12 within two or three years.
They must, obviously, compete with some of the best teams in the nation in, arguably, the best conference in college basketball.
Texas Tech, Kansas, Baylor, and Iowa State all have top-30 recruiting classes in the nation, and all rank higher than Kansas State. Even Oklahoma State, which is ineligible for postseason play, has the 13th-best recruiting class courtesy of Cade Cunningham.
Wins will decidedly not come easy for KSU, and as much as this is a rebuilding year, it will also allow for Pack and Ezeagu to experience the Big 12 in full force. They will undoubtedly be thrown into the fire almost immediately, but for good reason. They are the future of the Kansas State Wildcats.
Between his time at Illinois and Kansas State, Bruce Weber is prepared for this challenge. His two worst seasons prior to this at Kansas State were followed by three-straight NCAA tournament appearances. This, most likely, will follow that exact same pattern.
Time will obviously tell if Pack and Ezeagu are qualified for the national spotlight – and even if there are some missteps on the way back to national success, Wildcat fans should not fret. Bruce Weber and the Kansas State Wildcats will undoubtedly be a force to reckon with in the nearby future.