The Kansas State Wildcats achieved the goal set for Hawaii, overtaking what was largely a weak Diamond Head Classic field and winning the title on Sunday with a 77-60 win over Long Beach State. For K-State (10-1), however, the really encouraging stuff wasn't that the Wildcats took the title. Instead, it certainly appeared as though several players maximized opportunities afforded them during the sun-and-fun business trip.
With a week off now before a final nonconference game versus Howard, the question will be whether some of the treasures KSU uncovered in Waikiki were for real (if so, this is a Top 15-20 team with more upside to be had considering not all cylinders were firing), or more along the lines of Jim Wooldridge's fool's gold.
Knowing what we did about the players, and what we expected of them this year, I'm certainly leaning toward the former as the level of play was even louder than the coaching staff's shirts during Sunday's final.
1) Angel Rodriguez - Okay, so the tournament final didn't treat the freshman well at all. After shooting 7-of-9 from 3-point range in the first two games, Rodriguez drew an oh-fer from the field against LBSU, going 0-of-6 and 0-of-3 from behind the arc. Of course, the great news is that Angel showed he's capable of hitting from the outside at a much better clip than the 23-percent clip put together through the first eight games. Watching Rodriguez's shooting form, he doesn't appear to be the streaky type, so perhaps he is settling into that 35 or 40 percent range the 'Cats need from him on a regular basis. Overall, KSU's offense finally flipped the switch in Hawaii, averaging just over 44 points in the first half. For two of those games, it was done largely because of Rodriguez's breaking out. And, also, the frosh is now second on the team in assists, four behind Will Spradling. Unfortunately, on the way to his 27 assists, Rodriguez also lead the team in turnovers with 22.
2) Jamar Samuels' free throw shooting - Where in the heck did this come from? Maybe he ordered it from a SkyMall magazine along with the passenger seat office and personal infrared sauna, but by the time he landed in Honolulu, Samuels sported a new ability to knock down free throws. The senior was a career 58.6-percent shooter and connected on 17 of 29 free throw attempts through the first seven games of this season. But, he was 21-of-27 (77.7 percent) in Hawaii and is now 30 of 38 in his last four contests. As often as Samuels is around the rim, that obviously would be an unexpected weapon for K-State moving forward. It also helps sweep under the rug that Samuels was only 9-of-24 from the floor in those last four games.
|Jordan Henriquez thundered this dunk,|
and has been excellent blocking shots
as well for K-State this season.
4) Team shooting from 3 - Finally. Finally, K-State's shooters came to life as the team shot 51.3 percent from long range in Hawaii and blew out the 27.5-percent pre-Hawaii team clip. Rodriguez had a ton to do with that, of course, but, finally, starting guards Spradling and Rodney McGruder also came to life. The duo combined to hit 9 of 17 from 3 over the tournament, including 5 of 8 against LBSU. The old adage that the offense looks better when shots go in is absolutely true with this team. (Just ask fans who suffered through some other games.) Nothing really changed in terms of philosophy, but as long shots poured in, it made Thomas Gipson's quiet tournament (5.1 pts., 5.1 reb.) almost pass by unnoticed.
5) Moving forward - So, did the Hawaiian air really cure a lot of the ills that K-State took with it to the islands? Coming home, KSU now has a team scouting report that could look something like this:
- Veteran guards knocking down shots.
- Can put a legitimate five scoring threats on the floor at one time.
- Don't put Samuels on the free throw line.
- Must guard Henriquez as far out as the free throw line.
- Out-rebounding opponents by nearly seven per game.
- Eight players averaging virtually 20 minutes-plus. All productive.
- Waves of long arms at basket - Henriquez averaging 2.7 blocks/game.
I list these things because that's the kind of report that goes with a Top 15 team. K-State hasn't been ranked yet this season, but I would imagine that's about to change very shortly. It will be a good base on which to practice this week, play Howard on Sunday and then prepare for the Kansas Jayhawks on Jan. 4 in Lawrence.