It may be a while before we learn how good or bad the Kansas State men’s basketball team truly is this season.
But one thing is certain: The Wildcats are quite skilled at beating unheralded opponents at home.
K-State clobbered Green Bay 82-64 on Sunday at Bramlage Coliseum, which continued a string of lopsided victories against nonconference teams ranked near the bottom of Ken Pomeroy’s college basketball ratings database. The Wildcats have hosted five games against teams rated No. 296 or lower, and won those games by an average margin of 24.6 points.
The Phoenix entered the day rated No. 318, and K-State made them look like one of the nation’s worst teams.
“It’s a good win,” K-State basketball coach Bruce Weber said. “Our big emphasis was getting people to go side to side. We have enough weapons. I’ve said all along, we’re good shooters, but not unless we get open shots. We were 11 of 21 from three and only maybe three of them were bad shots. When we move the basketball and get it going side to side we’re able to break people down. We had some real positive performances today.”
It hasn’t been easy for K-State (6-3) to duplicate that success against teams that will challenge for the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats have gone 1-3 against the likes of Wichita State, Marquette, Arkansas and Illinois. Nevertheless, beat downs like this against Green Bay (2-8) are a welcome change from last season, when K-State lost to Division II Fort Hays State and narrowly defeated teams like UMKC, Omaha and Milwaukee.
There is no doubt the Wildcats have improved greatly over the past year.
Transfer guard Markquis Nowell is a big reason why. He led K-State with 22 points and also had eight assists and three rebounds. His play opened things up for Ismael Massoud to score 17 points and Mark Smith to finish with 14.
Nijel Pack also gave the Wildcats a boost by scoring six points while playing his first game in more than a week after recovering from a concussion.
“We got in the paint and we were finding the open guy,” Smith said. “That’s what coach was preaching to us, play for each other. Whenever we got in there we found open guy. The ball was just moving. We were playing fast in transition and that’s how we like to play. We were playing off each other and it was fun today.”
K-State will try to build off this performance against stronger competition in its next game at Nebaska on Dec. 19.
Here are some key takeaways from K-State’s drama-free victory over Green Bay.
Few mistakes for Markquis Nowell
K-State basketball coach Bruce Weber will probably file this away as the best game of Nowell’s young career with the Wildcats.
Yes, he flirted with a triple-double against Marquette and was the main reason why K-State defeated Wichita State without Pack last week. But his aggressive play yielded a mixed bag of results in each of those outings. For every three things he did right he also did something badly that left Weber shaking his head on the sideline.
The Wildcats have no choice but to live with both the good and the bad from their 5-foot-8 guard, as he’s too good to bench after most boneheaded mistakes. But they could raise both their ceiling and their floor if he can learn to slow down and play within Weber’s system.
He did an excellent job of that against Green Bay. He finished with 22 points, eight assists and three rebounds. But none of those were his most impressive stat. He only had two turnovers.
“I’m just being aware, being more conscious of where my turnovers are,” Nowell said. “I come in and watch film on a daily basis and I’ve looked at where my turnovers were coming from and how I could be better so I think that’s a big part of why my assists-to-turnovers ratio is getting better.”
There wasn’t much for Weber to criticize.
“Every once in a while he will still make a play where you’re like, ‘We don’t need that,’ but he’s made big strides,” Weber said. “I’m happy for him.”
That could be an encouraging sign for both Nowell and the Wildcats moving forward.
Impressive day on offense
This would have been K-State’s best scoring game of the season had Weber kept his starters in the game a little bit longer.
The Wildcats made 55% of their shots from the field and drained 11 three-pointers.
Nine different K-State players scored and the Wildcats averaged 1.37 points per possession.
Those numbers came against weak competition, but it was a nice change from some of their previous outings. K-State averaged 66.3 points in its last three games.
The entire team shot with confidence in this one. But no one was hotter than Massoud. The Wake Forest transfer scored his 17 points on just fives shots. And he didn’t have a miss. Massoud made all four of his three-pointers and also had four rebounds and two assists.
Weber said Massoud has been more vocal with his teammates over the past week and he is being rewarded for his leadership on the court.
Nijel Pack is back
K-State got its leading scorer back after a two-game absence.
He was nowhere near full strength and only played 14 minutes against Green Bay, but he still made his presence felt by knocking down a few shots that kept K-State’s offense ticking like a tightly wound clock.
The sophomore guard drained a three-pointer and finished with six points. The Wildcats didn’t need much from him in this matchup, but he seemed to make everyone around him better when he was on the floor.
Weber is hopeful Pack will be closer to 100% for the Nebraska game next week. Perhaps this helped him shake off some proverbial rust before then.
Pack began the season as K-State’s starting point guard. Nowell has stepped into that role recently. Odds are good they will both be in the starting lineup moving forward.
“When we walked out of the locker room I said to the coaches, ‘Can we start both?’” Weber said. “It’s going to be hard not to. They’re obviously going to play together … Offensively, there’s no doubt that’s our better team with those two. We will have to wait and see, but it’s going to be tough to take (Nowell) out of the starting lineup after what he’s done. There’s no doubt.”
Unfortunately for K-State, senior guard Mike McGuirl missed this game with an illness that isn’t related to COVID-19. But with a week off between games, he may be back at full strength against the Huskers.
This story was originally published December 12, 2021 6:03 PM.